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Guardian Angel

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The first time Regina sees her, she has no idea of what’s to come.

She slowly picks herself up off the ground and brushes the dirt and gravel off of her sleeveless gown, which has transformed from white to black in her fall. And she watches the woman.

Her hair is blonde and has a gentle curl, and even from a distance her eyes are so bright that when she smiles Regina’s sure they could illuminate the entire city she now finds herself in.

She almost approaches her. Almost. But something stops her. Regina’s wings flutter nervously as she watches the blonde woman and the young boy. They’re both eating ice cream cones, laughing at some joke Regina has not heard.

A man approaches them, kissing the woman briefly on the lips and ruffling the boy’s hair. The woman loops her arm through his with the hand not holding ice cream, leaning her head on his shoulder as they walk.

Regina turns away and retreats to the very end of the alley where she landed, feeling her feathered wings envelope her in warmth. It’s strange to see them black; it will definitely take some getting used to.

“The council has decided that you, Regina Mills, are guilty of treason by selfishness. Standard procedure commands your exile.”

For the first time since her exile, Regina weeps. She draws her knees up close to her chest, wrapping her wings around herself to completely block out the world.

It’s her own fault she was exiled; that much she’s accepted. She absolutely loathes herself for being so selfish as to be exiled. Selfishness was absolutely not tolerated in the Enchanted Forest. She runs a hand down her blackened wings. She’s seen people in her kingdom with black wings before; the ones who were exiled before and had redeemed themselves enough to return. But she never imagined she’d ever be one of them.

“Only through performing an act of true selflessness will you be allowed to return to the Enchanted Forest.”

“Hey, you okay?” a voice asks.

Regina’s wings part and fold neatly against her back Of course; human perception makes them invisible, Regina thinks to herself. She looks up to see a man standing over her. She shakes her head almost imperceptibly.

The man holds out a hand, and she takes it. He pulls her to her feet. “What’s your name?”

“Regina.”

“I’m Robin.” Robin grins, looking Regina up and down. “You can’t be homeless.”

“And why’s that?”

“You’re too beautiful; too… put together.”

“Glad to know I have that going for me,” Regina snaps bitterly.

“You looking for somewhere to stay?”

“No!” she exclaims, not wanting this stranger to think she was helpless.

Robin defensively holds up his hands. “All right, no need to get snippy; I was just trying to help.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“Sorry to bother you,” Robin grumbles as he turns around and walks out of the alley.

Regina has to find somewhere to stay; somewhere that isn’t a back alley in downtown Manhattan.

She sighs, folding her arms around her and walking slowly out of the alley. Her toes curl as her bare feet sting with every step on the cold gravel, and she shivers in the frosty night air. It’s nearing spring, she can tell, but it’s still much too cold at night.

She walks for maybe five minutes before passing by a restaurant. She glances inside, only to find her gaze trapped by the people sitting by the window.

It’s the blonde woman and her boyfriend. The young boy is there too, but he’s focused on the device in his hand, completely oblivious to everything around him.

The woman laughs, throwing her head back as she does so. Then she turns to look out the window.

Their eyes lock for just a moment before Regina turns away, wings curling around her, and walks quickly past the restaurant. She’s only made it a few steps, however, when she’s stopped.

“Hey! Hey, wait!” a voice calls behind her.

Regina stops and turns around, seeing the blonde woman standing there. “Yes?”

The woman draws her red leather jacket around her, shivering in the cold. “Aren’t you freezing?” she asks, gesturing to Regina’s sleeveless black dress.

“Yes.” Regina pauses. “Why did you come out here?”

“I… I don’t know. I saw you watching us.”

“I’m sorry. You just looked so… happy. I’ve always been fascinated with happiness.”

The woman frowns. “You’ve never been happy before?”

Regina shrugs, gesturing to her cracked, bleeding, and frozen feet and torn dress. “Not much to be happy about.”

The woman sighs. “Why don’t you come inside and I’ll buy you dinner?”

Regina’s stomach growls at the thought of food, but she shakes her head. “I couldn’t ask that of you.”

“You didn’t. I offered. Just think of it as a debt. You’ll pay me back someday.”

“I… okay.” She paused. “Thank you.”

The woman smiles. “Of course. Although… you might need some shoes.”

Regina frowns. “I don’t have any.”

“You look about my size. Listen, I’ve got a pair of heels sitting in my purse in case Walsh and I decide to... hang out after dinner. I can put those on and you can wear my boots.”

Again Regina shakes her head. “You’re being too nice to me… we don’t even know each other.”

“What’s your name?”

“Regina Mills.” She didn’t mean to tell the woman her full name - it just came out.

“Emma Swan. Now we know each other. I’ll be right back.” Emma turns and goes back into the restaurant.

She’s gone just long enough for Regina to doubt she’s coming back, but after a few minutes she returns in black pumps with heels at least four inches tall, her worn brown boots in her hands. “Here you go. The socks are in the boots.”

Regina smiles gratefully as she sits down on the cold pavement and pulls on the socks and boots. She laughs. “I look ridiculous; don’t I?”

Emma smiles. “You look beautiful,” she says softly.

Regina blushes. Neither of them say anything for a bit; then Emma clears her throat.

“Let’s go in before you catch hypothermia.”

Regina follows Emma into the warm restaurant, sitting down in the extra chair beside the boy.

“This is Walsh and Henry,” Emma says, gesturing to her boyfriend and son in turn. “Guys, this is Regina.”

Henry glances up from his device with a quick smile. “Hi,” he says simply before turning back to it.

Walsh smiles tightly and shakes her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“And you as well,” Regina says. “Thank you so much for helping me tonight.”

“It’s our pleasure.”

Emma frowns. “Regina, do you have a place to stay tonight?”

Regina flushes again. “Well, I… no, not really.”

“You’re welcome to stay with Henry and me at my place. I mean, if you want to.”

“Oh, you’ve already done so much for me tonight; I don’t know…”

Emma reaches around her son and squeezes Regina’s arm. “I won’t be able to live with myself if I leave you without a warm place to sleep.”

“How do you know I’m not some murderer?”

Emma looks thoughtful. “I don’t.”

“I can promise you I’m not.”

Walsh clears his throat, and Emma quickly pulls her hand back into her lap. “So what do we all want to order?”

***

Emma turns the key in the lock, opening the door to her apartment and flicking on the lights. “It’s not much,” she says, slipping off her jacket and shoes. “But we like to call it home.”

Henry hangs his jacket up on the hook by the door. “Can I watch TV?” he asks.

Emma raises her eyebrows. “Is your homework done?”

Henry pouts, but goes into what must be his bedroom, snatching his backpack off of the kitchen table on his way.

“Sorry. He’s got a bit of an attitude on him.”

Regina smiles. “How old is he?”

“Just turned twelve.”

“Sounds like he’s growing up.”

“Unfortunately,” Emma laughs. “So, I assume you don’t have any pajamas on you?”

Regina holds up her empty hands. “This is all I’ve got.”

“You’ve got an awfully nice dress for someone who hasn’t got anything else.”

“I was thrown out. They left me with all I had on my back. I just happened to be wearing this.”

“Who’s ‘they?’”

“My family,” Regina says, choosing her words carefully.

Emma nods. “You can borrow some stuff for tonight. I’ll be right back.” She disappears into a room down the hall and returns a moment later with a bundle of clothes in her hands. “Try those on. Bathroom is down the hall, first door on the left.”

“Thank you.” Regina goes into the bathroom and changes into the clothes Emma gave her; a tank top and gray sweatpants. They fit perfectly, hugging her curves as perfectly as one could hope for.

She smiles weakly at herself in the mirror, running her hands through her long black curls before going back out into the living room.

Emma raises her eyebrows when she sees Regina, obviously appreciating the sight. “So you can sleep on the couch for tonight. Help yourself to anything if you get hungry.”

Regina nods. “Thank you. I know I keep saying it, but I mean it. Thank you.”

Emma flashes her a crooked grin. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you need; it’s no trouble at all.” She goes down the hall to her bedroom. “Good night,” she calls without turning around, closing her door behind her.

“Good night,” Regina whispers, smiling at Emma’s retreating figure.

Regina shakes her head and lies down on the couch, surprised at how soft it is. She falls asleep quicker than she anticipated, but it’s a dreamless sleep that seems to last only a second.

***

Regina awakes to the sounds of Emma and her son bustling around the apartment, getting breakfast and packing lunch and making sure everything gets put into the right bag.

For a second – for one shining moment – she thinks she’s back in the Enchanted Forest, that it was all a dream, and a smile spreads across her face. Her smile disappears when she looks around and sees Emma’s small apartment around her.

“Morning,” Emma says, setting a steaming mug of black liquid on the table beside the couch for her. “Sleep well?”

Regina takes the mug and holds it in her hands, feeling the warmth emanate through her body. “All right. And you?”

Emma shrugs. “As ever.”

“Thank you again for letting me stay.”

“Of course. Listen, I’ve got to go into work after I drop Henry off at school, so…”

“Oh of course, I’ll leave immediately.” Regina stands up.

“You can come back,” Emma says quickly. “I mean, when we get home, you can come back and stay. And um... if you don’t wanna wear that dress around you can borrow something from my closet.”

“How do you know I’m not just stealing your stuff?”

“I don’t. But I… I trust you.”

Henry’s eyes widen behind his mother.

“Why?”

“I – I don’t know what it is about you but you seem…” she pauses, searching for the right word. “genuine.”

“Genuine?” Regina has never heard that word used to describe her before.

“You know, sincere. Legit.”

“Well I – thank you.”

Emma smiles, holding Regina’s gaze for a minute. Then she clears her throat. “Come on, kid, it’s time to go.”

“But I’m not done yet!” Henry says, gesturing to his half-eaten bowl of Lucky Charms.

Emma rolls her eyes. “All right, come to the car when you’re finished. I’m leaving in five minutes, with or without you.”

Regina can tell she’s bluffing, but Henry starts wolfing down his cereal at light speed.

He stops in front of Regina on his way out. “You’re special, you know.”

“What makes you say that?”

“My mom trusts you. She doesn’t trust anyone. Not even Walsh.”

“Really?”

“You wanna know a secret?” Henry asks with a mischievous grin. “I think she likes you.”

A smile crawls across Regina’s face and her reply is out of her mouth before she can stop it. “I think I like her too.”

Chapter Text

With nothing to do that day, Regina decides she’s going to walk around town until Emma gets back. She goes into what looks like Emma’s bedroom and opens the first drawer of the dresser. Underwear. She takes a pair of simple black panties and a black bra to match.

The next drawer holds an array of shirts and sweaters. Regina takes a few out to look at, and ultimately decides upon a red sweater with a low scoop neck. As for pants, she chooses a simple pair of worn skinny jeans. Emma took her brown boots for the day, but Regina finds another pair of boots - black ones - in the shoe closet by the front door.

After changing in the bathroom, Regina finds Emma’s makeup kit in the bathroom cabinets. She’s never worn makeup before.

"Why not?" she says aloud. She opens the bag, intending to apply some makeup, but the tools inside confuse her to no end. What is this tube of black liquid? Is that some sort of torture device? Why the hell is there a pencil in there? She sighs and put away the bag. Maybe she’ll have Emma teach her later.

Regina brushes her hair and sweeps it into a high ponytail, examining herself in the mirror. Her eyes are slightly red and puffy; she was almost certainly crying during the night. She shakes her head, ignoring her eyes. No one will notice, right? No one cares enough about strangers to notice.

She grabs a pair of socks from Emma’s drawer and pulls on the boots. Then she goes to the front door, where there’s a note taped to the inside.

Please lock the door when you leave. I'll be back at five. My number is 641-0279 if you need anything. Have a good day :)

-Emma

Regina feels herself smiling, and before she can stop herself, she carefully folds the note and slips it into her bra - the jeans have fake pockets rather than real ones.

It isn’t until she gets outside that she realizes she has no money. She’ll be starving. She almost goes back up to the apartment before realizing that she locked it and she doesn’t have a key.

She sighs and runs a hand through her ponytail. She’s been hungry before. Back in the Enchanted Forest, the royals had to make sure everyone else got something to eat before they did. It was supposed to demonstrate the selflessness of those in power - all it did was send Regina to bed without dinner most nights. There was never enough for everyone.

So one night when she was particularly hungry, Regina snuck out after everyone was asleep and went to the kitchens. There was bread for the next morning sitting in a basket near the oven to keep it warm.

She only took two loaves, stuffing them under her shirt and hurrying back up to her room. The bread filled her growling stomach, and it was so delicious she’d finished it all in just a few minutes.

It was so delicious she went back the next night for more. And the next night. And the next.

She’d been stealing bread for a month before she got caught. She was exiled immediately.

A voice wrenches her out of the memory. "You okay?" the voice asks.

Regina looks up to see a man; the same man who talked to her the night before. "Robin," she says.

"Hey, you remembered me! Regina, right?"

"Yes."

"Looks like you found someone to stay with."

"Yes."

"Listen, I’ve got the day off today. Let me take care of you."

Regina hesitates. She may as well; it’s not like she has anywhere else to go. "Fine. But only for today."

Robin grins. “That’s all I ask.” He reaches for her hand, but she pulls it away. They start walking.

Regina curls her lip, not looking forward to her day with Robin. "So what do you do for a living anyway?"

"I'm a lawyer. I’m hoping to own my own firm someday," he says wistfully. "Can't you picture it?" He holds his hands up as though picturing a marquis. "Robin Hood, attorney at law." He smiles as he lowers his hands.

Regina snorts. Robin Hood seems to have a majorly inflated ego.

"Well, what about you? Got any goals?"

Regina shakes her head. "No, not really."

"Come on, everyone has goals."

"Look, I just want to be able to go home. Nothing more, nothing less."

Robin raises his hands defensively. "Okay, okay, sorry I asked." He points to a cafe across the road. "Want to get some coffee?"

Regina frowns. She's never had coffee before – she was even too hesitant to try the mug Emma gave her that morning. But then, there’s a first time for everything. She shrugs. "I suppose so."

Robin confidently crosses the busy street, Regina hurrying to keep up. He orders his own coffee first - cafe latte with two extra sugars - before turning to her. "What would you like?"

Regina stares at the menu above the barista's head, squinting at the names that sound completely made up. "Just black I suppose," she decides finally.

"She'll have a coffee black," Robin repeats to the barista as though the girl didn’t hear Regina. How chauvinistic of him, she thinks to herself. She glances at the clock hanging on the wall of the coffee shop; it’s 10:06 in the morning. Only seven more hours until I can ditch this douchebag and go back to Emma's. She forces herself to smile as they collect their coffee and sit down at a table by the window.

"So, who are you staying with?"

Regina narrows her eyes - she doesn’t want to give Emma and Henry away to Robin. "No one you'd know," she snaps, more rudely than she intended.

Robin raises his eyebrows at her hostility. "So I can't talk about your future; what about your past?"

"Nope."

"Family?"

"Haven't got any."

Robin frowns. "What do you mean? Everyone's got a family."

"Not me. Not anymore, anyway."

"Okay... what about your friends?"

"None of those either."

"Pets?"

"Dead."

"Okay, how about this: where are you from?"

Regina sighs. "That's my past, Robin."

Robin frowns.

"Why don't we just sit here?" Regina says. "Look out the window."

"Yeah, okay."

And they do. For about thirty seconds.

"You're a riddle," Robin says.

Regina looks at him, bristling at having her thoughts interrupted. "What?" she hisses.

"You are a riddle wrapped in a mystery cloaked in an enigma."

"How... poetic of you." Regina has to stop herself from saying pretentious.

Robin gives her a cocky grin and traces the rim of his coffee mug with a finger. "You know, I, uh, I actually write poetry. In my spare time."

"Do you now?" Regina replies, feigning fascination.

"Yeah. And I may have just found my new inspiration."

Regina stops herself from rolling her eyes. She brings her coffee mug to her lips; wincing as the now-cold liquid touches her tongue. It’s bitter and watery, nothing like the taste she imagined from the warmth Emma's coffee gave her that morning. "This is absolutely vile!"

Robin chuckles. "It's an acquired taste. Although I wouldn't recommend coffee black to anyone; especially not someone like you."

"What do you mean, someone like me?"

"You seem like someone who likes quality. I like that."

Regina grimaces, hoping it looks like a smile. "Thank you."

"So, listen, I've got to get my kid a birthday present. You wanna come with?"

She sighs internally. What choice does she have? "I suppose."

Robin walks Regina back to his car - a black Jaguar, of course - and drives them to a toy store a few minutes away.

Hating the silence, Regina sighs. "How old is your son?" she asks, too brightly.

"He'll be eleven next week. S'name's Roland."

Regina forces herself to smile. "He sounds lovely."

Robin nods, for the first time since she met him showing some genuine emotion. "Yeah. Yeah, he really is."

Robin chooses a video game for Roland, and he takes Regina to lunch at a place called McDonald's. It isn’t the best food she's ever had; but then, she came from a life of royalty.

When they finish eating, it’s only 1:00. Robin takes Regina back to his house. "I still can't believe you've never had mac and cheese. That's like - a crime!"

Regina shrugs. "I came from a life where we rarely had anything for dinner. Mac and cheese was never an option."

"Well, I'm about to rock your world."

Regina hesitantly follows him into the kitchen, chewing on her lip as he opens the pantry and sets a box of macaroni on the counter.

"Before we eat, I want to show you something. Follow me. And take your shoes off," he adds, gesturing to her boots.

She complies, leaving them in the kitchen. He leads her to his bedroom and shuts the double doors before turning to her.

"Come here." He pulls her into a tight embrace before she can protest, and his fingers pull at her sweater.

Regina squirms, trying to fight him off. She kicks him in the shin. He grunts and slackens his grip enough for her to slip away, but he latches onto her hair and pulls. Hard.

She shrieks in pain, stumbling backward and back into his hands. He pulls so hard on her sweater that the fabric rips, and tears it the rest of the way off of her. Robin tosses it aside with a triumphant smile. Then he hooks his thumbs into her jeans and rips a line down each leg, his nails digging in hard enough to graze her leg and draw blood.

Tears pour from Regina's eyes as he pulls the shredded jeans off of her legs, leaving her in only her underwear. He grabs at her breasts, roughly rolling them in his hands.

Regina bites down on his hand as hard as she can, releasing it when she tastes blood. He shouts and pulls his hand close to him.

Without hesitation, Regina bolts for the door, fumbling with the handle. She gets it open just as Robin is running at her and slams the door in his face. She leans against the door as she pulls off her socks. Using the socks, she ties the two door handles together before hurrying downstairs and grabbing the phone from its cradle.

She digs Emma's note out of her bra and dials the number. "Emma?" she gasps as soon as Emma picks up the phone.

"Hey, is everything okay?"

"No. I know you're busy and I'm so sorry but I need you to come get me."

"What happened?"

"I... I'll tell you when you get here."

"Where are you?"

Regina pokes around the kitchen before she finds a piece of mail with the address on it. She reads it off to Emma. "Please hurry," she adds quietly. "I'm really scared."

"I'll be there in ten minutes."

"Thank you," Regina whispers as she hangs up. She stands by the front door, staring out the window and trying to distract herself from the sound of Robin trying to open his bedroom doors upstairs. She tiptoes up the staircase and snatches the desk chair from the room across the hall from Robin's - presumably his son's room. She leans the chair against the doors just beneath the door handles before hurrying back down the stairs.

Emma's yellow bug pulls up in front of the house a minute later. Regina grabs Emma's boots from the kitchen and goes outside to meet her.

Emma's eyes widen when Regina gets in the car. "What happened to you?" she exclaims. "Where are your clothes?"

Regina opens her mouth to explain, but all that comes out was a choked sob. "I - there was this man, and he bought me lunch, and he was very sweet, and he brought me to his house and then he-" she breaks off, taking a deep breath before continuing. "He tore my clothes off and he tried to touch me but I got away and locked him in his bedroom and then I called you."

Emma stops the car and leans over to wrap Regina in her arms. "I'm so sorry," she whispers. "No one deserves anything like that to happen to them, especially not you. Come on, let's get you home."

"Don't you have to go back to work?"

"I’ll tell them it’s an emergency. Besides, I've got to take care of you. I promised. I’ve got you, Regina.”

Regina smiles weakly. "Thank you."

"You know I'm definitely not letting you go live on the streets after this, right?"

"Good. Because I don't want to go."

 

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you can't come?" Emma sighs into her phone, running her hand through her hair. "... okay... of course... I guess I'll find someone else to go with me... you too. Bye." Walsh has been cancelling on her a lot lately. It’s getting frustrating. She turns to Regina. "That was Walsh. He can't come to Henry's rehearsal tonight."

"Will Henry be okay?"

Emma waves a hand dismissively. "He's not Walsh's biggest fan; he'll be fine. But now I have this extra spot. You wanna come?"

"Oh, I don't know if he'd want me there..."

"Bullshit. The kid loves you. And there's no way in hell I'm leaving you here alone where someone could get in and hurt you again."

Regina smiles to herself. "I suppose I could tag along if you're sure."

Emma grins. "You'd better get something a bit nicer on."

"I'll be right back," Regina laughs. She goes down the hall to Emma's bedroom to get some clothes. When she comes back, she’s wearing a light blue button-down and black slacks.

Emma smiles. "That's my favorite shirt." She runs a bit of the material between her fingers. It’s strange seeing Regina wear it. It almost makes it seem like Regina is... hers.

"Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to wear it?"

"No," Emma says softly. She clears her throat. "It looks better on you anyway."

Regina smiles. "I doubt that, but thank you."

They’re interrupted by the door opening. "What are you guys doing home so early?" Henry asks as he drops his backpack by the door.

I took the afternoon off," Emma explains vaguely.

Henry nods. "I need to be at school at 6:00 for rehearsal."

"Righty ho. Hey, listen, Walsh called earlier and he won't be able to make it. But Regina says she'll come if that's all right with you."

Henry grins. "Awesome!"

"I'm excited to see what you guys will do." Regina smiles warmly.

"I have to go get my script! I'll be right back." Henry runs down the hall to his bedroom.

Emma smiles after him, affection shining in her eyes. "He's super excited for this. It's the first time he's ever played a lead role."

Henry returns a minute later carrying a black binder. "Ma let me put it in a binder so it looked professional," he explains with a grin. "Can we get dinner before we go?"

"Sure." Emma ruffles his hair. "Granny's?"

Regina frowns. "What's Granny's?"

"It's this diner down in the quieter part of town. They have the best cheeseburgers. And the waitress is a good friend of mine so sometimes she sneaks us discounts." She grinned mischievously.

"I've never had a cheeseburger," Regina says. "What is it?"

Henry's jaw drops. "Get in the car right now. We have to get her a cheeseburger."

Emma laughs. "Let's go. Grab your coat."

The three of them walk down to the parking lot and load into Emma's bug. "So what's the play?" Regina asks Henry, turning around in her seat to face him.

"My English teacher has an old book of fairytales and she turned it into a play," he says enthusiastically. "I'm Prince Charming." His chest puffs out.

Regina laughs, reaching over to pat his knee. "Congratulations, Charming. Who's your princess?"

"Snow White. This girl Paige plays her."

Emma raises her eyebrows, but she doesn't say anything.

Finally, they park in front of a small diner and walk inside. An old woman is sweeping the floor as a teenage girl with heavy makeup on waits on the tables.

"Hey, Ruby," Emma greets the girl. "We brought a friend today."

Ruby raises her eyebrows. " Your usual booth?"

"If you've got it."

Ruby leads them to a booth near the window. "Will it just be cheeseburgers for y'all tonight?"

"Yeah," Emma replies. "Thanks, Rubes."

"No problem. I'll get those in for you." Ruby goes toward the kitchen, her hips swaying back and forth.

Henry is paging through his script, silently mouthing the lines to himself. Emma looks over his shoulder. He’s at the part where Charming-

"Whoa, hold up," she says, snatching the binder from him.

"Hey!"

"You have a kissing scene? You're in the seventh grade!"

Henry shrugs, his face and ears bright red. "It's acting. The show must go on."

Emma hands him his script back. "I'm gonna go get some hot chocolate. You want some, Regina?"

"I... okay."

Emma stands up and goes to the counter where Ruby is manning the register. "Hey, I forgot to ask, can I get some hot chocolate?"

Ruby nods. "Your usual?"

"Yeah. And I'm gonna need three."

Ruby looks up with one eyebrow raised. "For her?"

"We're just friends," Emma says firmly.

"Sure. Friends."

"What do you mean by that?"

Ruby rolls her eyes. "Oh please. You're buying her dinner and taking her to Henry's rehearsal. And it's super obvious the way she looks at you. She likes you."

Emma frowns. "She does?"

"Duh. I'd say hit that before it's too late." Ruby hands Emma a small tray of three steaming mugs of cocoa. "Enjoy."

"Thanks." Emma carries the cocoa back to the table, walking slowly so as not to let any of the hot liquid spill over the top. She carefully sets one in front of Regina. "Let it cool for a minute before you drink it."

Regina swipes one finger through the whipped cream and licks it off, tasting it for a second. "Is that cinnamon?"

Emma frowns. "Yeah, it's a little quirk of mine. I'm sorry, I should have asked."

"No, it's fine. I like it." She takes a sip, surprise coloring her face. "Wow. This is amazing."

Emma grins. "I told you.”

Ruby comes back to the table and sets three plates in front of them with enormous burgers on them. Emma pulls out her phone. "Hold on. I've got to capture this moment: Regina's first cheeseburger."

Regina frowns at the entree in front of her. "Do I just... eat it with my hands?"

Henry nods and takes an enormous bite of his own hamburger. "Like this," he says around his mouthful of food.

Emma playfully shoves him, hitting RECORD on her phone. "Okay, Regina, take a bite of heaven."

Regina hesitantly picks up the burger, holding it in her hands as though it’s a dead animal. She takes a small bite, letting it rest on her tongue for a moment before chewing and swallowing. She nods thoughtfully. "It's good. I like it." She grins into the camera, sticking up one thumb.

Emma ends the video with a laugh. "Now let's hurry. It's already 5:15 and Henry's school is a good twenty-minute drive." She digs into her own burger, relishing the greasy deliciousness of a Granny's cheeseburger.

Emma pays Ruby at the register when they've finished and follows Regina and Henry back out to the car, rolling her eyes at a wink from Ruby.

They arrive at Henry's school at 5:58 and have to run to the auditorium where Mary Margaret, Henry's English teacher, is trying to organize a large gathering of unruly middle schoolers.

"Hey, Miss Blanchard!" Henry greets his teacher. "Hey, David," he adds, noticing that Mary Margaret's boyfriend is there as well.

Mary Margaret smiles at him. "Hi, Henry. I was afraid you wouldn't make it."

"I was at dinner with my mom and our friend, Regina," he explains, turning and pointing out the two women.

Mary Margaret looks up at them with a warm smile. "Hi, I don't believe we've met," she says to Regina, holding out a hand. "I'm Mary Margaret Blanchard, Henry's English teacher."

Regina shakes her hand. "I'm Regina. I'm a friend of Emma's."

Mary Margaret looks like she’s about to say more, but the door to the auditorium bursts open behind them and a blonde girl runs in.

"I'm so sorry I'm late," she exclaims, throwing her bag down on the chair next to Henry. "We got stuck in some major traffic."

Mary Margaret smiles. “I'm just glad you made it. I don't know what we'd do without our Snow White here."

Henry grins sheepishly at the girl. "Hey, Paige."

"Henry! You’re playing Charming, aren't you?"

He nods. "That's me. Do you think maybe you want to come over sometime this weeken and we could run lines?"

Paige smiles warmly. "I'd love to." She turns to the stage, where Mary Margaret is now standing to address the kids.

"All right, everyone, I want to work with you guys on some of the bigger scenes. Can I have the leads up here please? Bring your scripts."

Henry, Paige, and another older girl take their scripts up to the stage. Paige has hers in a binder as well; a blue one. Emma grins. That must have been where Henry got the idea.

The scene has only just begun when it’s interrupted by the auditorium doors opening and a boy and his father rushing in. “Sorry we’re late,” the man says with a slight accent.

Regina squirms in her seat. "I have to use the bathroom." She gets up and hurries out of the auditorium, leaving Emma alone to wonder what made her so uncomfortable.

She soon finds out. When Regina returns, the man is watching her. She leans over and whispers to Emma. "That's him."

Emma's eyes widen. "Him? As in the guy from earlier today?"

Regina nods, her face white as a sheet. "His name's Robin."

The man comes over to them. “Regina?"

Regina's face hardens. "Robin," she says coldly.

Emma places a protective hand on Regina's knee. "What the hell do you want?"

"What are you so worked up about, lady?"

Emma stands up, moving so that her face is just inches from Robin's. She speaks quietly. "If you ever lay a hand on her again so help me I will end you.”

Robin holds up his hands defensively. "Look, I just came over here to apologize."

"I don't want to hear it," Regina says, narrowing her eyes. "And how can you be here with your son, knowing what you did just a few hours ago? Knowing what he would think if he knew?"

None of them are sure where it came from, only that there’s a loud crack, and suddenly there’s a red mark on Regina's face in the shape of Robin's handprint. "Don't you dare bring Roland into this," he growls.

Mary Margaret approaches them with a snarl on her face. "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you and your child to leave. I do not tolerate violence in my rehearsal."

Robin glares at her and stalks away, taking his son's hand and walking out of the auditorium.

Mary Margaret frowns. "Are you all right?"

Regina nods, touching the spot where Robin slapped her. "Yes. I'm so sorry about that."

"What happened?"

"He... he and I have a brief history. I said something I shouldn't have."

"No," Emma says firmly. "What you said was completely justified. He was way out of line."

"I can leave if you need me to."

Mary Margaret shakes her head. "You did nothing wrong. Do you need some ice or anything?"

"I'm fine. Thank you."

"Let me know if you need anything." Mary Margaret goes back to the stage, leaving Emma and Regina sitting alone in the back row.

Regina sits silently, a look of discomfort coloring her face.

"Hey," Emma says softly, sitting down and taking Regina's hand. "I’ve got you. And that’s never gonna change, okay?"

Regina snorts. "You’ve only known me two days."

"It feels like a lot longer." Emma smiles. She feels a warmth rush through her. She can't be sure, but it almost feels like it’s coming from Regina's fingertips. She can hear Ruby’s voice in her head chanting one phrase, over and over and over again.

I told you so.

I told you so.

I told you so.

Chapter Text

Every step brings him closer, even as Regina backs farther and farther away until her back hits the wall. His hands grab at her throat, effectively cutting off her scream. There’s nowhere for her to go. She’s trapped.

"Regina!" a voice calls in the distance.

Regina is shaken awake, feeling hands on her shoulder. She opens her eyes. She’s on the floor, and Emma and Henry are leaning over her with concerned expressions on their faces.

"Are you okay?" Henry asks quietly.

"Yes." Regina sits up, feeling a splitting pain in the back of her head. "Ow."

"You hit your head?" Emma says.

"Yes, I think so."

"Let me get you some ice." Emma stands up and goes to the kitchen, returning a minute later with a package of frozen peas. She gently presses the bag to the back of Regina's head. "That help?"

Regina nods.

Emma turns to Henry. "Why don't you get back to bed? You've got school tomorrow."

Henry gives Regina a quick hug before hurrying back to his bedroom and turning off the light.

Emma helps Regina to her feet. "Were you dreaming about...?”

"Yes. It was awful." Regina wraps her arms around herself. "I couldn't get away."

"Hey," Emma says quietly, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I’ve got you. You're safe." She leads Regina into the kitchen. "You want some hot chocolate?"

"If you're making it."

Emma makes two steaming mugs of cocoa with whipped cream and cinnamon, pressing one into Regina's hands.

Regina savors the warmth as it spreads through her body from her hands. "Thank you."

"I'll stay up with you. At least until you fall asleep."

"You don't have to-"

"No. I promised I'd take care of you. End of story. Come on." She holds out her hand, and Regina takes it. They go into Emma's room and sit on the bed.

Regina picks up the book on Emma's nightstand. "What's The Great Gatsby?" she asks.

Emma's eyebrows disappear into her hairline. "You mean you've never even heard of it? What rock have you been living under for the past hundred years?"

Regina shrugs.

Emma settles under the covers, patting the space next to her. "Let me read to you. It'll take your mind off of things."

Regina smiles and climbs into the bed next to her.

Emma opens the book to the first page and clears her throat. "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had..."

Regina soon finds herself dozing off. The soothing sound of Emma’s voice fills her head and echoes in her mind, and as she lets her eyes fall shut, Regina realizes there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.

 

Regina wakes up with a contented smile on her face. Her head is leaning on Emma's shoulder, the blonde’s arms draped loosely around her. She would have loved to stay there until Emma woke up... but she has to pee. She reluctantly wriggles her way out of bed, careful not to wake Emma, and tiptoes to the bathroom.

When she comes back into the bedroom Emma is awake and stretching. "Morning," she yawns. "Sleep okay?"

"Yes." She pauses, twisting her fingers in front of her. "Thank you."

Emma smiles. "Of course." She yawns again and stands up. "I need some coffee. You want some?"

Regina wrinkles her nose. "I'm not a fan of coffee."

Emma grins and loops her arm through Regina's. "Come on. Mine is way better than whatever crap you had. It's the only coffee I can drink."

Henry’s already in the kitchen, shoveling cereal down his throat at light speed. "Slow down, there, kid," Emma teases, ruffling his hair as she walks past him to the cupboard. "Give yourself a hernia.

Henry sticks his tongue out at her but slows himself down. "Morning, Regina," he says through a mouthful of Froot Loops.

Regina smiles and leans over the counter across from him. "Morning, Henry. I never got to ask, how's Paige doing?"

That gets him to slow down. His ears go red. "She's... good."

"Didn't you say she was coming over sometime?" Emma asks, turning on the coffee maker and coming to stand beside them. "I thought I heard you invite her."

"Yeah, um, I was gonna ask her to come tomorrow... if that's all right."

Emma laughs. "Sure. But does she know you like her?"

"I don’t like her!" Henry says indignantly. He throws his bowl in the sink and hurries back to his room without another word.

"We're leaving in five," Emma shouts after him, a sly grin coloring her face. She takes the coffee pot out of the coffee maker and pours two mugs. Then she opens a cupboard and gets out a million different things. Sugar, cream, caramel and chocolate syrup, and the milk that’s already sitting out from Henry's breakfast. She passes a mug to Regina and gestures to the things on the counter. "Do whatever you want to it."

Regina frowns, tentatively reaching out and taking the bottle of chocolate syrup. Between each addition to the coffee, she tastes it to see if it’s right yet. Finally, after two chocolate infusions, one of caramel, two teaspoons of sugar, and three of cream, it’s perfect.

Emma raises her eyebrows. "You really hate coffee."

Regina blushes. "Sorry."

"It's not a bad thing. Just an observation." She pours a dash of milk and a teaspoon of sugar into her mug and takes a sip.

"I guess I have a sweet tooth."

Emma grins. "Yeah, I guess you do."

Henry comes out of his room with his backpack on his back. "I'm ready."

Regina stands up. "I'll just get dressed and go.”

Emma shakes her head. "You can stay today."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It's probably best. And I... I trust you." She pauses and clears her throat. "You can call Lacey in the apartment next door if you need anything. Her number is by the phone. She might be a bit cranky though; she works the night shift at a bar downtown."

Regina smiled. She reaches out to touch Emma's arm. "Thank you. I really mean it, Emma. Thank you."

Henry clears his throat. "We're gonna be late, Ma."

Emma nods. "Right. Okay. Let's go." She turns to Regina. "Have a great day. I'll be home at five."

They leave the apartment, locking the door behind them. Regina smiles to herself as she sips her coffee. The phone rings. Unsure if she should answer, she ignores it. The answering machine picks up. Curious, she approaches the telephone, hearing Emma's pre-recorded voice answer the call.

Then the caller speaks. "Emma, hey, it's Walsh. I was just calling to see if you wanted to do dinner tonight. You know what, I'll just call your cell. Love you." He hangs up.

Walsh. Regina forgot about him. She sighs and sits down on the couch. Suddenly, there’s a loud pounding on the apartment door. She jumps, and slowly approaches the door. She looks through the peephole.

There’s a moment of panic before she remembers what Emma told her before she left. Creeping over to the phone as silently as possible, she picks up the scrap of paper next to the phone and dials Lacey's number.

"Hello?" a groggy voice answers. Regina can’t place her accent, but it doesn't matter right now.

"Are you Lacey?"

"Yeah." Lacey pauses. "Oh, are you that girl Emma said was staying with her?"

"Regina, yes."

"What’s up?"

Regina frowns. "There's a man at the door. He wants to hurt me. I don't know what to do."

"Shit. Hold tight, I'll get rid of him."

Regina breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank you so much."

"It's no problem." Lacey hangs up. A minute later, the knocking on the door stops.

Regina tiptoes closer to the door to hear what’s going on.

"What the hell?" Lacey says. "It's 7:30 in the morning. People are trying to sleep here."

"I am so sorry," Robin replies. "I just really need to talk to someone in this apartment."

"No one's home. They left ten minutes ago."

"No, I know the person I need is inside."

Lacey sighs. "Look, the only people that live there are Emma and Henry and they left ten minutes ago. I saw them. I don't know how you got into our building, but it's time for you to leave."

There’s a long pause. Regina holds her breath. Finally, Robin sighs. "All right. I'm sorry to bother you."

Regina hears him walking away. Then Lacey knocks gently on the door.

Regina opens it. "Thank you so much, Lacey."

Lacey smiles. "Of course."

"Why don't you come in?"

"Thanks." Once she’s inside, she sits down on the couch and looks Regina up and down. "Emma was right. You're way too pretty to be a street baby."

Regina blushes. "She said that?"

"Yeah."

Regina smiles to herself, but Lacey catches it.

"You totally like her, don't you?"

"No, of course I don't!"

Lacey raises one eyebrow with a smirk. "You can tell me, you know. I won't tell Emma."

Regina sighs and sits down beside Lacey. "Okay, maybe a little bit. But it's not even a big deal. She's with Walsh; she's happy."

Lacey smiles and pats Regina's leg. "People break up all the time. I've seen them together. I think it might be coming soon."

"Really? They looked perfectly fine when I met them."

"Was Henry there?"

"Yes."

Lacey nods. "She never likes to show her problems in front of Henry. Thinks it'll hurt him."

Regina smiles. "She's a good mother."

"She really loves him. She'd do anything for him."

"I can tell."

Lacey stands up. "I should get going. Remember, just call if you need anything else."

Regina smiles. "Thanks."

Lacey lets herself out and locks the door again behind her.

Regina thinks about what Lacey said. Walsh and Emma are having trouble. She feels more than a little guilty about being happy about this, but might Lacey be right?

Might it mean she has a chance?

Chapter Text

Henry goes straight to his room when he gets home, without so much as a word of greeting to Regina, and he still hasn't come out when Emma walks in the door at five, arms laden with shopping bags and grocery bags. "Hey," she says, out of breath.

Regina switches off the TV and hurries over to Emma. "Here, let me help you."

"Thanks." Emma smiles. "How was your day?"

Regina chews on the inside of her cheek. "Uneventful. And you?"

"Busy."

"Do you want any help with dinner?"

Emma shakes her head. "Thanks, but Friday dinner is sort of my thing. I like to sort through my thoughts while I cook. Sort of an end-of-the-week unwinding thing, you know?"

Regina smiles. "Of course. What are you making?"

Emma makes a motion of pulling a zipper across her lips. "Can't say. It's a surprise."

"It'll torture me until I find out."

"That's the idea."

Regina throws up her hands and leaves the room going to knock gently on Henry's door.

"Come in," he calls. He looks surprised to see Regina entering his room. "Hey, what's up?"

Regina shrugs. "How's your homework coming?"

"Good."

"May I...?" she asks, gesturing to the empty chair next to him in front of his desk.

He frowns. "No offense, but I don't really need any help."

"I know... but I was thinking maybe you could teach me some things. I never got a chance to go to school."

Henry's eyebrows disappear into his hairline, an expression reminiscent of his mother. "Really?"

“Where I’m from women are expected to be dutiful wives, not educated members of society," she explains quietly.

He pats the chair next to him. "I'm doing biology right now. You wanna learn about that?"

Regina grins and sat down beside him. "Sounds fascinating."

Henry moves his textbook so they can both see it. "We're learning about cells right now. This is what a cell looks like; they're microscopic. But there's billions of them inside you and they make up your skin, your heart, and everything else."

Regina nods. "That's quite interesting."

"Yeah. So this is-"

He’s interrupted by a knock on the door. "Hey, kid, phone for you," Emma says as she came into the room. She raises her eyebrows. "Hey, Regina."

Henry stands up and takes the phone from Emma, going out into the living room.

"You helping him with his homework?"

"He's teaching me."

"You actually want to learn about seventh grade biology?"

Regina blushes. "I never got to go to school."

Emma frowns. She comes in and sits beside her. "Isn't that like, illegal?"

"Not where I lived. I was taught how to sit properly and not eat with my mouth full so I could be a good wife. This kind of education was never an option for me.”

"Well... if you ever want to learn anything beyond a seventh grade education I can help you out. If you want," Emma adds hastily.

Regina smiles softly. "Thank you."

"I should get back to dinner. It'll be ready in about ten."

"Okay."

Emma leaves Regina alone in Henry's room. Regina flips through the biology textbook, skimming through big words she doesn't understand.

Henry comes back in. "Sorry about that."

"Who was calling?"

His ears go red, another trait Regina notices he shares with his mother. "Paige."

Regina smirks. "Did she ask you on a date?"

"No!" He pauses. "No. She just wanted to know what day to come over so we can practice."

"Well? When is she coming?"

"Next week." He hesitates. "So... cells?"

Regina chuckles. "Cells."

Henry explains to her all about the parts of a cell, what they do, and how cells work together as a unit to make organs.

"Soup's on!" Emma calls from the kitchen.

Henry grins and closes his book. "Let's go. I’m starving.”

Regina nods her agreement and they go into the kitchen.

Sitting on the plates is some sort of bun with ground meat covered in a red sauce dribbling out of the sides. There are bags of potato chips in the middle of the table and Emma’s setting a glass of dark brown soda in front of Henry's place.

"What's this?" Regina asks hesitantly.

"Sloppy Joes!" Henry exclaims, hurrying to sit down.

Regina tentatively sits in front of her plate. "I've never had anything quite this... well, sloppy."

Emma grins. "Here, have a beer."

"I've never tasted beer; is it good?"

"Well, it's not like wine and champagne, I can tell you that much." Emma grabs two bottles from the refrigerator and hands one to Regina. "Bottoms up." She opens her bottle - a twist cap - and takes a long swig.

Regina unscrews the top with some difficulty and takes a small sip, face puckering as the gold liquid touches her tongue. "It's very strong," she comments.

Emma laughs. "It's an acquired taste. You can have root beer if you want." She gestures to the soda in front of Henry.

"I think I'll stick to water, thanks."

"Suit yourself. Just know you're not getting the full Sloppy Joe experience."

Regina grimaces. "I think I'm fine with just the sandwich." She moves her hands toward it, trying to find a clean place to grip the soggy bread.

Henry and Emma dig, the sauce dribbling down their chins and between their fingers. Emma looks up. "Come on, Regina," she around half-chewed Sloppy Joe. "Live a little."

"You know what, fine. I'll be a pig like you." She grabs the sandwich, ignoring the sauce that drips down her hands and back onto the plate, and sinks her teeth in. She chews and swallows, surprised at the array of flavors that come from an insanely messy sandwich. "It’s not terrible."

Emma grins and high-fives Henry. A small bit of sauce flies from their hands as they meet. "We've corrupted her, kid. She's one of us now."

Regina raises one eyebrow. "You haven't corrupted me yet, dear. One meal won't break me."

"Guess I'll have to keep trying then. Oh! I almost forgot, I got you something today." Emma wipes her hands on a napkin and goes to the counter to get the last remaining bag.

She pulls out a pair of stunning red leather gloves and a folded piece of paper. She hands both to Regina.

"Oh, they're gorgeous," Regina gushes, running her fingers over the smooth leather. "What's the occasion?"

Emma shrugs. "I saw them and they reminded me of you. Thought you might like them."

"I love them. But I can't take them. You've already done so much for me, and I-"

"They're yours,” Emma interrupts her. “Guilt-free. It's a gift."

"I... I don't understand."

"What do you mean?"

"No one's ever given me anything without expecting something in return. No one could be that generous."

Emma frowns. "Sounds like you've been hanging out with the wrong people."

Uncomfortable talking about her past any longer, Regina searches for something else to talk about. She picks up the paper. "What's this?"

"Yeah, the store where I bought the gloves was hiring. Thought you might be interested so I grabbed you an application."

“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” Regina muses, a smile spreading across her face. “This might be fun.”

Emma smirks. “Don’t get your hopes up. Work is a lot of… well, work. Not so much fun.”

“Well, I think it will be.”

“I guess you never know.”

Regina smiles softly. “No, you never do.”

 

After Henry’s in bed, Emma and Regina sit in the living room working on Regina's application. "Date of birth?"

Regina chews on her lip. Technically, she’s several decades old, but she obviously can't tell the store that. "February 19th, 1977," she says, writing down a random date.

"Huh. You're older than me."

It takes everything in her power not to laugh. "Are you surprised?"

Emma shrugs. "I dunno, I guess you always just seemed younger. Maybe it was just your innocence."

"Innocence?"

"Yeah, you know, how you've never had a Sloppy Joe, never had a job; that stuff."

Regina nods. "That has nothing to do with my age."

"Right." She turns back to the paper. "Past work experience... just write 'none'."

Regina writes it down. "Home address..." she trails off.

"Here, I'll write mine." She takes the pen from Regina and writes in an address.

"Does that mean this is my home now?" Regina jokes.

"If you want it to be, then yes," Emma says firmly.

Regina's heart accelerates and she can’t stop the smile that spreads across her face. "Thank you. For everything."

"Yeah. Yeah, of course." Emma's eyes are wide and sincere.

Regina likes Emma's eyes. They’re extremely expressive and Regina can always tell what Emma’s feeling based on her eyes. And the color. She's never seen such a shade of green before. Or are they blue? Both maybe?

Emma clears her throat and turns back to the application, ending their eye contact and Regina's thoughts. "Phone number, you can have mine for that too."

Regina watches Emma thoughtfully, allowing her thoughts free reign as the silence overtakes them. She’s known Emma less than a week, but somehow, it seems like so much longer. Somehow, everything with Emma just feels so right. Somehow, in some magical way, Emma makes everything seem okay. And it’s right then that Regina realizes something that will surely change everything. Despite everything everyone’s ever told her, despite everything that can and will go wrong, she’s falling fast in love with Emma Swan.

And there’s no one at the bottom to catch her.

Chapter Text

Emma agrees to bring Regina's application to the store herself, and in seeing that Regina is way too on edge to make a good impression, doesn't push for her to come with.

“What if I don't get it?" Regina asks the second Emma comes home, twisting her fingers nervously in her lap.

Emma sits down on the couch beside her. "You'll apply for another one. It's your first job, one rejection won't hurt you."

Regina looks intensely into Emma's eyes, trying to make her understand. "I've never done well with failure," she says quietly.

Emma frowns. "Tell you what. You need to get your mind off this. I've got a cabin up in Maine. Henry and I were meaning to go up there this week anyway."

"Are you inviting me to come with you?"

Emma smiles. "Of course. It'll be fun. And when we get home you'll know if you got it or not. 'Kay?"

Regina swallows. "Okay."

"Henry!" Emma calls. "Come on out; we’re gonna leave for Storybrooke soon!"

Henry comes out of his room, his eyes bright. "Really? I didn’t think you were serious about going."

"Yeah, pack a bag. We'll leave in a few hours."

"Wait." Henry frowns. "Can I invite Paige?”

Emma glances at Regina and shrugs. "I guess so. We've got room."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah. Why don't you call her now?” Emma turns to Regina as Henry takes the cordless into his bedroom. "So, I'll pack you a bag?"

"Are you sure you've got room for me?"

"It's a three bedroom, and there's no way I'm letting Paige sleep in Henry's room, so if she's coming we might have to share." She hesitates. "If... that's all right with you, that is."

Regina chuckles softly. "Didn't we just share the other night?"

"Good point. Come on, you can pick out some stuff from my closet."

As they’re about to go into Emma's bedroom, Henry pokes his head out of his. "Paige's dad wants to talk to you," he whispers, holding the phone out to Emma.

Emma holds the receiver to her ear. "Hello?"

"Hi, are you Henry's mom?"

"That I am."

The man on the other end coughs. "I'm Jefferson, Paige's dad. She tells me you've invited her to go to your cabin today?"

"Yeah, sorry it was such a last-minute invitation," Emma says, combing her fingers through her hair.

"When would you be coming back?"

"We were gonna stay a full week, but you could pick Paige up early if you don't want her missing school."

Jefferson pauses. "I suppose she could stay the week. She's pretty good about making things up for school."

Emma grins. "Great, tell her to pack a bag then. We can pick her up when we leave, or you could drop her off whenever."

"When are you leaving?"

Emma glances at the digital clock beside her bed. "We're planning on leaving around ten, but it might be a bit later depending on how long it takes everyone here to get packed."

"I'd better help Paige pack. I'll have her ready by ten for you to pick her up on your way."

“Sounds good to me.”

"Thank you for taking her," he says before they hang up. "She's very excited."

"Of course! Henry's pretty excited too; they've become pretty good friends since the play started."

"That they have."

The two say their goodbyes, and Emma puts the phone back in its cradle. She goes back into her room, where Regina has laid two outfits out on Emma's bed and is looking through the closet for more.

Regina looks up as she comes in, a subtle flush coloring her face. "I hope you don't mind, I started looking already."

"Not at all." She runs her hand over the clothes on the bed. The pale blue button-down is there, and Emma smiles at the memory of their dinner at Granny's. Then she remembers what Ruby said. It's super obvious the way she looks at you. She likes you.

When Emma looks up, Regina's eyes are on her, as though she were asking herself something. When Emma meets her eyes, her gaze flits quickly away. "I like this sweater," she says quickly, holding up a soft blue sweater.

"Jesus, I almost forgot I had that," Emma laughs, pushing away her thoughts for now. She rubs the knitted material between her fingers. "It is nice. You should definitely wear it while we're out there."

Regina smiles. "I will."

 

An hour and a half later, the four of them are piled into Ruby's car (Emma swapped with her for the week, as they can't all fit in her bug with their bags) and driving up to Storybrooke, Maine. “All right, folks, here’s the deal,” Emma says as she starts the car. “We will be making exactly five stops on our trip. One for lunch, two for gas, and two extra bathroom breaks when we need ‘em. Otherwise, we’re gonna be in this car together for the next ten hours, so I’d recommend getting comfortable and not pissing each other off. Got it?” At the nods of confirmation from everyone in the car, Emma pulls out of Paige’s driveway and onto the road. She glances at Regina as they merge onto the interstate. "Do you wanna take over in a few hours?"

Regina blushes and looks at her lap. "I never learned how to drive."

"You wanna learn?"

Regina shakes her head. "I'd rather just be a passenger. I don’t know if I’d be able to handle myself behind the wheel of a car."

Emma nods, eyes flickering to her rearview. "I understand. People can be idiots on the road."

In the back, the kids have pulled out their play scripts and are running lines. "I have a name, you know. I'm Prince James," Henry reads in his Prince Charming voice.

"I prefer Charming," Paige replies as Snow White. "Now, are you going to let me go?"

"Maybe. Or maybe, I'll just take my ring and leave you here for the queen to find, Snow White."

"Wait! I'm sorry. James. Please, get me down from here. You can have your ring and all the other jewels you lost."

"I didn't lose them, you stole them." Henry corrects her.

Paige sighs. "Whatever. I'm sorry."

Henry makes a crude motion of cutting down Snow White's net-trap with his imaginary sword.

Emma pulls into the McDonald's parking lot and turns to face the kids in the back. "Hey, Snow White, Prince Charming, think you can stop bickering for a few minutes while we grab some lunch?"

Henry grins. "I'm starving."

"Me too," Paige agrees.

The gang gets out of the car and goes inside. Regina frowns. "Tell me they have salads."

"I would, but I’d be lying. But we'll go grocery shopping tomorrow when we're at the cabin and you can make us all a fabulous dinner if you want, okay?" Emma promises.

"I suppose I can live with that."

They order their food to go and go back to the car, as Emma wants to keep a tight schedule in order to reach the cabin by dinnertime. Regina frowns as the car starts moving again, unsure of how to go about eating her fish sandwich.

Emma meanwhile, is steering with one hand and scarfing down a cheeseburger with the other, the fixings spilling all over her lap. She finishes her burger in five minutes, crumpling up the wrapper and stuffing it in the paper bag with one hand, eyes never leaving the road.

Regina's sandwich is still untouched and now cold. She sighs and turns to the backseat. "Anyone want this?"

Paige shrugs. "I guess I'll have it." She takes the sandwich and bites into it, unfazed by the fact that it’s hardly warm anymore.

Regina pops a fry into her mouth. "So, how long until we get there?"

Emma laughs sharply. "We've still got a long way to go." She wakes her phone, glancing at the GPS map on the screen. "Phone says seven hours fifty-four minutes, but that's assuming I'm actually driving the speed limit the whole time, so probably six and a half if we don't take too long at gas stops."

Regina smiles. "We'll be there by dinnertime then."

"That's the plan." Emma pauses and glances at the bored kids in the backseat through the rearview. "Who wants to play a road game?"

 

It’s almost 7:00 when the foursome walks through the front door of the cabin, leg cramps and all. Emma stretches her arms, pointing out the hall to the bedrooms. "Henry, go put your bag in your room and show Paige her room."

"Okay!" Henry smiles. "Follow me." He and Paige disappear up the stairs, leaving Emma and Regina standing by the front door with their suitcases at their feet.

"Come on, our room's upstairs too. Think you can handle one of these?"

Regina effortlessly hoists a suitcase into her arms. "Lead the way, Swan."

Emma shows her the master bedroom, on the opposite side of the upper wing from the two smaller bedrooms. There’s a single king-sized bed with a simple blue comforter, two closets, and a simple oak dresser with a vanity built into the top.

Regina smiles. "It's very cozy. I like it." She goes over to the bed, still holding the suitcase. "Which side is mine?"

Emma grins and throws her duffel bag into the left closet, leaving Regina the right. She keeps her purse. "Come on, let's get something to eat and turn in early. There's a market in town we can go to tomorrow, but for now all I have is stuff for sandwiches."

"I'm so hungry right now I might even eat McDonald's," Regina jokes, following Emma to the opposite bedrooms.

"Hey, you two, it's dinnertime," Emma calls, smartly rapping Henry's door.

"Coming," comes his muffled reply. A moment later, he and Paige exit the room and follow the two women down to the kitchen.

Emma pulls a slightly squashed loaf of white bread out of her backpack, followed by a small jar of peanut butter and one of jelly. "I know it's nothing fancy, but Regina's promised to make us something nice tomorrow night after we get some groceries."

"I make a mean lasagna," Regina says with a grin.

Emma quickly spreads four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on paper plates, cutting them all in half diagonally and pouring three paper cups full of root beer and one of water.

They sit at the small table next to the door to the deck and stare outside.

Emma smiles to herself as she watches Regina pick up her sandwich. Only Regina Mills can look regal while eating PB+J.

Regina takes a dainty bite out of the corner, not noticing the small triangle of jelly that dribbled on the corner of her mouth.

Emma laughs and picks up a napkin. "You got a little something," she murmurs, wiping away the jelly.

Regina smiles softly. "Thank you."

"Ma, can we stay up a little bit? It's only 7:30," Henry asks.

"All right, but be in bed by nine. Trust me, you'll thank me for it."

"Okay, we'll be upstairs, then."

"Hey," Emma calls after the two kids as they make for the stairs, "why don't you guys shower off now? A nice shower always helps after a long drive. Towels are in the linen closet."

"'Kay." Henry and Paige go upstairs, and a minute later the shower turns on.

"I just hope they know they're supposed to shower separately," Emma jokes.

Regina laughs. "They're only twelve. They'll be fine."

"Come on, let's start getting unpacked before I crash."

The two go into the bedroom and start carefully folding their clothes and placing them in the dresser drawers. Regina notices Emma pulling out her small makeup bag and putting it on the vanity.

"Emma?" she asks softly. "Do you think you could do my makeup tomorrow? I don't know how to use any of it."

Emma grins. "Sure. But you know you're beautiful, even without it on right?"

"I..." Regina blushes. "I just want to try it."

"I guess I could help you out." Emma pauses, listening to the sounds outside. "I think they're both done in the shower. You want it next?"

"Thanks." As Regina grabs a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt and walks toward the bathroom, Emma can't help but notice how much more comfortable she looks with the family as compared to just a few days before.

Her thoughts are interrupted by her phone ringing, displaying the number Emma recognizes as the number given to them on Regina’s application. “Hello?”

“Hi, is this Regina Mills?” the man on the other end says with a slight accent.

“This is,” Emma lies. She doesn’t want the hiring people to think Regina can’t answer a phone. She makes a mental note to make sure Regina has her own cell for her job.

“My name is Killian Jones, I’m one of the hiring managers at Queen. We’ve reviewed your application and we think you’d be an excellent member of our staff.”

“That’s wonderful! Thank you.”

After figuring out a few logistics, Emma thanks Killian again and hangs up the phone. She smiles to herself. Regina got the job. And maybe, if she’s lucky, Regina will stick around even after she starts earning her own money. Who knows?

Chapter Text

When Regina wakes up, Emma is standing in front of the vanity, applying a last sweeping brush of black liquid on her eyelashes.

Regina stretches and yawns. "Morning," she says, slightly disappointed she was unable to wake up beside Emma again.

Emma caps her makeup tube before turning and grinning at Regina. "Morning, sleepyhead. You're the last one up. Henry's down showing Paige the dock."

Regina frowns, glancing at the clock on the wall. "But it's only seven in the morning."

"Cabin fever. Does that to you; gets you too excited to sleep in." Emma pauses, holding up the tube in her hand. "Did you still want me to teach you about makeup?"

Regina nods and clambers out of bed. "I have to go to the bathroom first." She goes down the hall, mind racing. She dreamt about home again. This time, it was about the time she spoke with Tinker Bell. Tink was a fairy, a very low rank compared to an angel. But Regina was desperate enough to go to her for advice. Tink stole fairy dust from the superior fairy and found something out about Regina's true love. She said that Regina's soulmate was the one with the lion tattoo.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t even come close to finding her soulmate.

She sighs and pushes all thoughts of her old kingdom from her mind. She finishes in the bathroom and walks back to the bedroom to stand beside Emma in front of the vanity.

Emma shakes her head. "Sit down on the bed, and no looking in the mirror. I want it to be a surprise when I'm done."

Regina smirks. "All right. But tell me what you're doing so I can do it myself."

Emma grabs her makeup bag and sits down on the bed, close enough to make Regina's breath hitch. "So I usually use a concealer and foundation, but your skin is… it’s pretty perfect." She grabs a few pencils in different shades, and Regina tenses.

"What are those for?"

"It's eyeliner," Emma explains. "It outlines your eyes and makes them pop. You just throw a bit under your eyes and it's like bam sexy eyes!"

Regina laughs. "All right then. Work your magic."

"Keep your eyes open, but look up." Emma carefully outlines the bottom of Regina's left eye, the brunette being careful not to blink or move. When Emma finishes both eyes, Regina lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding.

Emma caps the pencil and puts it away before pulling out an eye shadow compact. "You've got really pretty dark eyes, so this will make them pop," she explains as she lightly brushes a bit of the black powder over Regina's eyelid.

She fills in Regina's eyebrows with a brown pencil, and finally it’s time for the mysterious tube about which Regina so wondered.

"Okay, now for the mascara part you have to remain very still. Keep your eyes open." Emma carefully brushes the black mascara onto Regina's eyelashes, smirking in satisfaction at the way they lengthen and thicken. As a finishing touch, she paints Regina’s lips with a dark red lipstick. "Okay, you're finished," she says, almost breathlessly.

Regina's fingers twitch nervously as she stands up and walks to the vanity mirror. The woman looking back at her nearly takes her breath away. she’s got beautiful doe-like eyes that are clearly defined against the olive tone of her skin. Her lips look plump and full, standing out much more than they ever had. She breaks into a smile. "Thank you," she says quietly.

Emma grins. "Come on, let's get to the grocery store before Henry and Paige get too hungry. They'll be cranky if we make them wait too long for breakfast."

Regina laughs. "All right." She follows Emma down to the kitchen. Emma writes a note for when Henry and Paige get back from the dock.

Regina and I went to the store to get some stuff we need. Be back soon. Try not to break anything.

-Emma

Regina smiles to herself, remembering the note Emma left for her on her first day with her. "Let's hit it." Emma grabs the keys to Ruby's car and Regina follows her out.

They grab the necessities, as well as a few extras Emma grabs. She truly is a child at heart, Regina thinks affectionately as Emma stands on her tiptoes to reach a box of Twinkies on the top shelf.

The grocery run is brief, Regina coaxing Emma into buying some foods of nutritional value along with her junk food and Emma scrunching up her face like a child as she complies. When they return, Henry and Paige are sitting in the kitchen talking about the play.

"Miss Blanchard said we'll get the costumes next week," Paige says excitedly as Emma and Regina walk in, arms loaded with grocery bags.

"Mind helping us?" Emma grunts as she sets the bags on the table.

The four of them load the groceries into the cabinets and the refrigerator until finally, everything is put away.

"So I'm thinking we have a light breakfast today and go for an early swim," Emma suggests. "Who's up for it?"

Henry and Paige exchange a glance before Henry nods. "We could go for that."

"Regina?"

Regina shrugs. "I'm up for anything."

"Awesome. I'll make us some toast. Henry, wanna grab me the Nutella?"

Emma pops some bread in the four-slice toaster and sets out four paper plates. Henry hands her a large jar of brown spread.

Regina frowns. "What's Nutella?"

Emma looks at her with a crooked smile. "It's the most amazing thing ever. And here's the thing - it's good for you."

Regina raises her eyebrows at that. The Nutella looks suspiciously like chocolate as Emma spreads it on the toast, but Regina doesn't say anything. The jar says it’s hazelnut, and she doesn't feel up to protesting its ingredients.

Emma passes out the plates, Henry and Paige eagerly biting into the Nutella-covered toast.

Regina looks at hers uncertainly.

"Come on," Emma says, bumping her shoulder against Regina's. "I was right about hot cocoa, and about burgers, and about Sloppy Joes, and I'm right about this too."

Regina sighs. "You'll be the cause of my heart attack someday." She takes a tentative bite, making a small noise of pleasure as she tastes the Nutella. It’s the perfect balance of sweetness without being overwhelming, and the texture is perfect. "Wow," she says after a minute. "That is good."

Emma laughs. "Called it!" She holds out her hand, palm open, to Henry.

Henry rolls his eyes and digs in his pocket, slapping a five dollar bill into her hand.

"You had a bet on this?" Regina says incredulously.

Emma shrugs. "I bet Henry I could feed you something I could buy at a gas station and you'd love it."

"I forgot about Nutella!" Henry protests. "I mean of course she'd love Nutella. Everyone does."

Emma playfully shoves him with her shoulder. "I won fair and square and you know it."

"I already paid you so shut up," he grumbles.

Emma glances at the digital clock on the oven. "Hurry up, I wanna go swimming."

Regina swallows the last bit of her breakfast, wiping her mouth with a napkin. "I don't have a bathing suit."

"I brought an extra for you. Come on, let's see if it fits." Emma turns to Henry and Paige. "You two should get changed into your suits, too. In separate rooms.”

Henry rolls his eyes and goes upstairs, Paige following behind. Emma leads Regina back to their bedroom and rummages in the dresser for a moment before pulling out two bikinis.

They’re solid colors, one white and one black. Emma tosses her the black one. "You can change in the closet if you're uncomfortable."

Regina smiles briefly before retreating into the walk-in closet and shutting the door almost all the way. She emerges in the swimsuit, marveling at the part of her body she can see in the vanity mirror.

Emma’s just pulling on a short cover-up, but not before Regina thinks she catches a glimpse of something on her lower back. Something that’s not a natural skin color. She frowns, but ignores it.

She grabs a pair of shorts and pulls them on, but doesn't bother putting a shirt over her swimsuit top. They meet the kids in the kitchen and the four of them go down to the dock behind the cabin.

The dock is connected to a staircase that leads down from the backyard of the cabin and extends about ten feet into the ocean. Emma said the water is maybe twenty feet deep at the end of the dock, perfect for diving.

And dive she does. She throws off her dress and dives headfirst into the water, toes pointed toward the sky. Regina catches a brief sight of the thing on Emma's lower back, but is again unable to make it out before it’s out of her sightline.

Emma climbs back onto the dock, shaking out her hair, body dripping with water. Regina feels a stirring in her chest and low in her stomach at the sight.

Then she sees it. She’s finally able to get a good look at Emma's lower back as the blonde lies face down on a lounge chair to tan her back. It is indeed a tattoo. A creature, made up of intricate floral patterns, standing fiercely against the backdrop of a black shield.

A lion.

 

Chapter Text

Regina feels her heart leap into her throat, drumming so loudly she’s sure Emma must be able to hear it. The moment she sees that tattoo, she’s thrust into a memory.

"Your soulmate is the one with the lion tattoo.”

"Regina?" Emma's voice calls from some long distance away. "You okay?"

Regina's face burns and her heart pounds and she opens her mouth but no words come out because Emma has the lion tattoo.

“Regina?”

“Keep in mind that True Love isn't always what we think it will be. It could come when you least expect it."

Emma sounds worried now, and through the haze of unfocused vision Regina can see her brow crinkling and her eyebrows knitting together with concern.

Regina stands up without a word and runs to the end of the dock, leaping off without a second’s hesitation.

Beneath the water it’s calm. There’s no lion tattoo to scare her, no talk of soulmates or destiny.

“Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing."

Her wings are growing waterlogged – they’re not meant for swimming – but she doesn’t care. It’s not until her head grows foggy and her lungs begin screaming for air that she finally points herself upward and begins kicking to the surface, gulping in air when she breaks.

Emma takes her hand and pulls her back onto the dock, wearing her dress once more. "I was gonna get some lunch ready," she says, not letting go of Regina's hand.

Regina smiles softly. After her much-needed escape from reality, however brief, her head is much clearer than it was a minute ago. "Need any help?"

"I guess I could find something for you to do."

"You go get things started and I'll dry off and meet you in the house in a minute."

"'Kay." Emma moves to walk back to the house, feeling herself stopped by her grip on Regina's hand. She blushes and lets go, doubling her speed up the staircase to the small cabin.

Regina watches Emma's retreating figure with a small smile, gears still turning in her mind after seeing that tattoo. Is it just a coincidence, or could it mean...? Regina sighs and begins toweling off. She wishes she could talk to Tinker Bell. Even a short conversation with the fairy would make all this easier. She wraps the towel around herself once she’s dry and follows Emma's path up the stairs into the cabin.

When she arrives in the kitchen, Emma’s talking to someone on her cell phone. "...yeah, it was kind of a last-minute decision... sorry I didn't tell you... well you already said you couldn’t come!... look, I couldn’t just leave her home for a week... yeah... I'll see you when we get home... yep... you too." She hangs up the phone and runs a hand through her tangled, damp hair.

"Who was that?" Regina asks, stepping all the way into the kitchen.

Emma tosses her a t-shirt and some denim shorts. "Walsh," she sighs. "He’s upset I didn't invite him up here."

"I'm sorry." Regina tugs the clothes on over her wet swimsuit.

Emma shrugs. "It's okay. We've fought before; we'll be fine." She opens the refrigerator. "How about homemade pizzas for lunch?"

Regina smiles, deciding against mentioning the fact that she has no idea what a pizza is. "Sounds perfect."

Emma sets out four small round frozen pieces of dough, a jar of some kind of thick, red sauce, two packages of shredded cheese, and a few different kinds of meat and vegetables. "You wanna call in Henry and Paige for me?" she asks, glancing at Regina.

Regina goes back to the top of the stairs. "It's lunch time!" she calls down.

A moment later, both children come running up the stairs, pulling shirts over their heads as they barrel past Regina into the house. Regina follows them in with a smile.

"I'm starving!" Henry comments when he sees the ingredients. "Pizza?"

Emma grins. "We're gonna build our own.”

Henry grabs one of the round crusts and a spoon. "Pass me the sauce?"

Emma slides the glass jar across the counter to him and he carefully spreads some of the red sauce over his crust. He sprinkles some shredded cheese over it and adds some thin, round slices of meat on top and a few mushrooms.

Paige wrinkles her nose. "I hate pepperoni," she says, pointing to the meat on Henry's pizza. "It's all slimy and gross."

Henry grins wickedly. He picks up a pepperoni and throws it at her. It lands in her hair and she shrieks.

"Henry!" Emma reprimands him. She carefully pulls the meat slice out of Paige's hair and pops it in her mouth with a wink.

"Gross!" Henry says.

Emma grins. "Delicious."

Regina, still unsure exactly what to do, decides to follow Henry's example – sort of. She has to agree with Paige; the pepperoni looks pretty disgusting. After spreading the sauce and the cheese, Regina arranges mushrooms, tomatoes, and a few pieces of sausage atop her pizza, making sure they’re all spread evenly.

"Look at you, little Van Gogh," Emma teases, bumping Regina with her shoulder. "I never thought someone could be so intense about pizza."

Regina shrugs. "I like things to be orderly," she says simply. After Emma and Paige have made their pizzas, Emma puts the four pizzas on a tray and shoves it in the oven.

"All right, you two go do whatever. They'll be ready in a half hour."

"Come on, I'll show you that… thing I mentioned earlier," Henry says with a sly glance toward his mother, leading Paige up the stairs.

Emma leans back against the counter. "So... what are you making for dinner?"

"I was thinking about a lasagna. And maybe some chocolate cake for dessert."

Emma raises her eyebrows, impressed. "How about brownies?" she amends. "Bit less messy, bit more kid-friendly, you know?

Regina nods silently, having never eaten a brownie before.

"I gotta be honest, I thought you were gonna make some organic, hipster, health food meal or something."

Regina smiles to herself, shaking her head. "That was my mother's job." She doesn't elaborate. She can't talk about her mother to Emma.

Emma grabs a bit of cheese straight out of the bag and pops it into her mouth.

Regina wrinkles her nose. "That's highly unsanitary, dear."

Emma indignantly throws another bit of cheese at Regina. It lands in her hair. Regina slowly picks up a stack of pepperonis and hurls them one after another at Emma, watching with a wicked grin as they stick to her clothes, skin, and hair.

And they continue like this, flinging food back and forth, until a large glop of marinara sauce lands on Regina's white t-shirt. Without hesitation, she tears the shirt off, leaving her in her bikini top once again.

Emma scoops up some sauce in a plastic spoon and bends it back, grinning as it splatters all over Regina's hair. And then... neither of them are sure how they got there, but they’re there. Standing in the kitchen. Arms around each other.

Kissing.

Emma tastes like spicy pepperoni and cheese and a hint of sweetness Regina can't place. She could have stayed there forever, softly kissing Emma, feeling the blonde's hands on her waist, but they’re interrupted by the loud blare of the oven announcing that their pizzas are done.

Emma jumps out of Regina's embrace, looking horrified at what she's just done. Her mouth moves, but nothing comes out.

Regina scoops her shirt off the ground and hurries upstairs to the bathroom and locks the door. She paces back and forth in the small room, fingers combing through her long, damp hair and flinging sauce everywhere. What just happened? Did it mean anything? Could Emma feel the same way she did?

She shakes her head. Emma has Walsh; she loves him. She wouldn't leave him for some street rat like her. Because that's all she knows of Regina – a piece of street garbage.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” she mutters, shaking her head and she paces faster and faster back and forth in the tiny room. And suddenly, this room isn’t an escape anymore; it’s a prison. She’s trapped between these four walls and she can’t get out because she knows Emma is waiting just beyond that door and she just can’t face her right now. She just can’t.

Regina catches a glimpse of movement to her right, and stops to examine it. It’s her reflection. She studies herself in the glass, her own face and body. Mirrors are her favorite marvel from this world; the one thing that makes her almost glad she faced exile; the one the thing that she wishes she had in her palace.

Here, she can see her wings. She hasn't looked at them recently; just looked past them as she always has. But now she examines them.

They’re black. Could it be they’re darker than when she first arrived, or just a trick of her eyes? She folds them halfway around herself, gently running her fingers through the downy feathers of the underside of her wings. "I'm sorry, Snow," she whispers, feeling tears in her eyes. "I let you down." She pauses. "But I'll come back to you. I will."

There’s a knock on the door. "Regina?" It’s Emma. "You okay?"

"I'm fine," Regina lies.

"Look. I... I'm sorry about what happened in the kitchen. I don't know where it came from. I don't wanna freak you out or anything."

Regina bites her lip. She doesn’t say anything; doesn’t trust herself to speak. Her own hands gently stroking up and down the soft feathers of her wings are the only thing keeping her grounded.

The doorknob jiggles. "Can I come in?"

“No.”

“Okay.” There’s a very pregnant pause before Emma speaks again. "Did it... mean anything to you?" she asks quietly.

"I... don't place any merit in it."

"So it didn't?"

"I don't believe it carried any significant import," Regina says, skirting around her answer, because she doesn’t want to lie but she can’t let Emma know that yes, it meant everything in the world and more to her. She wouldn’t be able to look her in the eye if she knew that.

"Regina, it's a simple 'yes' or 'no' question. Did it mean anything to you?" Emma’s getting frustrated, annunciating each word with care.

Regina chews on the inside of her cheek. “No,” she says finally. “Did it mean anything to you?”

“No.”

"Well, it's settled then."

"Yeah, I guess it is." Emma shifts her weight on her feet. "Lunch?"

Regina opens the door, hoping it’s not too obvious she’s been crying. "Lunch."

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the vacation proves to be fairly uneventful, aside from Emma being unable to look at Regina for too long without blushing, and Regina trying her best not to think about their kiss - to no avail.

Regina’s exhausted when they finally arrive home after dropping Paige off at home. She goes straight to the couch and collapses face-down in the familiar upholstery.

“I’ve got news,” Emma announces, a huge grin on her face. “I got a call from the hiring department at Queen.”

Regina sits straight up. "I got it?"

"You got it!"

Regina doesn't think twice before throwing herself into Emma's arms. It’s only after Emma doesn't hug her back that she pulls away, awkwardly wringing her hands in front of her. "Sorry."

Emma shakes her head. "Let's go to the mall tomorrow," she says, changing the subject back to Regina's job. "I'll get you some things to wear to work, maybe get your hair done. It'll be great."

"You've already done so much for me, Emma."

Emma smiles. "You deserve it. I'd do it for any friend," she adds with a shrug.

Regina bites her lip. Of course she would. She’d be foolish to think she’s anything special; especially to someone like Emma Swan. "Well then... thank you." She turns and lies back down on the couch, arms wrapped around herself. “I’m going to go to sleep.”

"You're... sleeping on the couch again?"

"Are you all right with that?"

Emma frowns. "I guess I just... well I kinda liked sharing is all." She shakes her head. "Never mind. G'night." She makes to walk to her room.

Regina stands up. "I could share. If you're all right with that, of course."

Emma grins and goes into the bedroom, Regina following behind her. Regina can't sleep; not after the excitement of learning she got the job and her ever-growing anxiety about her feelings for a certain blonde. So she watches Emma sleep.

Her breathing is even and soft, and her hair falls over her face. She looks utterly peaceful; not like she does when she’s awake, running around chasing after Henry’s needs and the needs of everyone else. Regina sometimes wonders if Emma ever tends to her own needs. It doesn’t seem like it – Emma’s one of the least self-centered people Regina’s ever met, and she grew up in a kingdom where it was against the law to be selfish.

Emma’s nose scrunches in the midst of a dream, and for the first time Regina notices a smattering of barely visible freckles across her face. She decides she likes them, and has to restrain herself from reaching out to run her hand over them. “Emma?” she whispers, half-hoping the blonde can’t hear her. She doesn’t stir, so Regina continues. “I think I might love you.” She sighs quietly. “Walsh is a lucky man.” She turns over and lies on her side, a single thought circulating through her mind.

How much she’d love to take his place.

 

"Yeah, I'm free tonight."

Regina frowns at the sudden interruption of her sleep, blinking her eyes to adjust to the bright light in the room. Emma’s sitting on the edge of the bed talking on her cell phone.

"Where were you thinking?... yeah okay... I'll see you tonight... love you too." She hangs up and turns to Regina. "Morning," she says with a smile.

"Walsh?"

Emma's smile falters a bit, but she recovers quickly. "Yeah, he's taking me to dinner tonight after we're done at the mall."

Regina nods, ignoring the slight tug she feels on her heart. "When are we going again?"

"The mall opens at ten, so I was thinking we grab breakfast at Granny's and then go?"

"Sounds good to me."

"Righty ho; get dressed and I'll grab Henry."

Regina bites her lip. "Could I use your makeup again?"

Emma nods slowly. "Yeah. But just remember you don't need it to look beautiful. You already do."

Regina smiles but doesn’t say anything. She tries to push down the butterflies she gets every time Emma tells her that, tries to tell herself that Emma has Walsh, that she’s happy, but there’s a niggling voice in the back of her mind whispering, but what if she’s not?

After getting dressed, Regina tries somewhat successfully to replicate the makeup Emma had given her at the cabin. She frowns at her reflection. She may have gone a bit heavy on the eye pencil, but she deems it fairly good for her first time.

Emma knocks on the bedroom door. "You decent?"

"Yes, you can come in."

Emma comes in, eyebrows raising. "Get a bit excited?"

Regina blushes. "I've never done it myself before."

"Here, let me help you." Emma grabs a thin, moist wipe from a box on the makeup table and gently dabs it around Regina's eyes. It’s the first time Emma’s touched her voluntarily since the kiss, and that fact doesn’t escape Regina. She feels her cheeks grow warm beneath Emma's gentle touch.

When Emma’s finished, Regina looks significantly less like a raccoon. She smiles. "Thanks."

"Of course." Emma turns to Henry, who’s standing in the doorway. "Let's get this show on the road."

 

"What do you mean you've never had a Cinnabon?" Henry exclaims. He turns to Emma. "Ma, we have to get her one today."

Emma grins, glancing at her son through the rearview mirror. "Guess we do, don't we? And hey, sit back in your seat. You're gonna break the seatbelt."

Henry frowns and retreats from where he was leaning so far forward that his head was between Regina and Emma in the front seats.

Emma parks in the Granny's parking lot and walks inside with Regina and Henry behind her. "Hey, Ruby," she greets the long-legged brunette. "I got three."

Ruby smirks. "You brought her again," she observes with a wink, casting a glance to Regina.

Emma gives Ruby a warning stare that sends a million and one questions racing through Regina’s head, and the girl leads the three to their table without another word on the matter.

After a hearty breakfast, they all load themselves back in the bug and head for the shopping mall. "All right, first thing's first," Emma says as they walk in. "You need a new wardrobe. Clothes for the working woman."

Regina smiles. "Sounds great."

In the first store, Emma immediately grabs her a blazer and slacks combination. "Try these on," she instructs. "I'll ask the clerk for some more stuff."

Regina walks uncertainly into the fitting room. Is she supposed to strip naked in public in this tiny little stall? Chewing on her lip, she slowly removes her clothes and dresses in the red button-down shirt and the pantsuit.

As Regina looks at herself in the mirror, she feels a stirring in her stomach. She’s changing; becoming a new person. No longer a princess, no longer a good girl. She is, as Emma said, a working woman. Her wings stir slightly, as though to remind her that she doesn’t truly belong in this world like she’s starting to feel like she does. She’ll always be a stranger to Emma’s world, no matter what.

She jumps at a knock on her stall door. "Are you decent?" Emma asks.

Regina unlocks the door and steps out, feeling a twinge of satisfaction at the way Emma's eyes widen and she sucks in a sharp breath. "How do I look?" Regina asks, turning so that Emma can see the back as well.

"You look... wow."

Regina smiles at her ability to take Emma's breath away. Back home, she knew she was beautiful, but she was never allowed to acknowledge it or use it to her advantage. That would be selfish, after all. She was never even allowed to look in the mirror but once a day to make sure she was presentable to the world.

Emma holds up a few more things on hangers. "The lady gave me these. You wanna try 'em on?"

Regina nods and takes the items back into the fitting room with her. As she looks herself up and down in the mirror, her wings flutter and tickle her arms with the soft feathers. She trails her fingers along the wings absent-mindedly as she stares at her reflection. As much as she's changed, her wings will always be black. And now... she might even be okay with that.

 

"This is really good!" Regina exclaims as she takes a bite of the cinnamon roll. Henry was so enthusiastic about her trying one from this shop – Cinnabomb, she thinks it is – and now she knows why. "We had these rolls at home but I was never allowed to have one."

Emma frowns. "Why not?"

Regina shrugs. "It would be selfish. And my mother didn't tolerate selfishness."

"Sounds like your mom was a bit of a hardass."

"I... don't know what that means."

Emma shakes her head with a smirk. "Never mind." She stands up. "Ready to get your hair done?"

Regina nods. "I suppose so."

"Let's hit it."

The next thing she knows, Regina’s sitting in a stiff chair with a black cape over her body, wings folded neatly beneath her.

"So what are doing today?" the stylist asks. Her voice is much too nasal for Regina's liking.

"I..." Regina realizes she hasn't actually given the haircut much thought. Her eyes fall upon a catalog sitting on the counter in front of her. The woman on the cover has hair that falls just below her chin. "Like this," she says, picking up the catalog to show the stylist. "Just like this."

"All right, I'm gonna have you sit back for me. It should take about an hour, okay?" the stylist adds, turning to Emma.

Emma nods. She leans over to talk to Regina. "I'm gonna take Henry to the video game store," she says. "We'll be back in forty-five minutes, okay?"

Regina smiles. "Have fun." She tries her best to relax in the chair as she hears the first snip snip snip of the scissors and watches the last bit of her old self fall gently to the floor.

Chapter Text

Regina's stylist is just finishing the haircut when Emma and Henry return to the salon. "That looks amazing," Emma says, eyes widening when she sees the short length Regina chose.

Regina grins, but remains silently focused on her reflection as though there’s something truly fascinating about seeing her own face in the glass.

The stylist dries and fluffs Regina's hair, and the end product is... well, there’s no other word but stunning. Emma feels her heart skip a beat when Regina turns to her with a wide smile. Her mind goes right back to that kiss they shared in the cabin's kitchen.

"Do you like it?" Regina furrows her brow, looking almost worried about Emma’s reaction.

"God, Regina you look spectacular." She holds out her hand to help Regina out of the chair, turning away to hide her blush when she lets it linger too long.

Regina's eyes light up at Emma's comment. "Thank you."

"You wanna stay longer or are you ready to go home?"

"Let's go home," Regina says with a smile.

Emma pays for the haircut and they drive back to the apartment. Henry goes straight to his room, mumbling something about texting Paige, and Regina all but falls onto the couch.

"I've gotta go get changed for dinner," Emma says, glancing at the clock. "Walsh is gonna be here in about ten minutes. I'll have Lacey come over and take care of Henry so you shouldn't have to worry about him."

Regina nods.

"I, uh, might spend the night, so if you don't see me by midnight that’s where I am."

"Have a good time, dear."

Emma offers her a half-hearted smile. "Thanks." Truthfully, she’s dreading this night for reasons she can’t quite put her finger on – but she won’t tell Regina that. She won’t tell anyone that.

After changing into her dress – a tight black leather number – she comes out of her bedroom to find Regina still sitting on the couch. Lacey knocks and Emma lets her in. "Hey," the girl says with a smile. "You look great, Em."

"Thanks. And hey, thanks for coming over tonight."

Lacey shrugs. "'S no problem." She glances over to Regina, eyes widening. "Oh my god, I love your hair!"

Regina grins, reaching up to tease the tips of a few strands between her fingers. "Thank you, Lacey."

Emma nods. Her phone chimes. "Gotta go, Walsh is downstairs. See you all later. Bye, Henry!" she calls down the hall before she heads out the door and down the stairs to yet another dinner with her perfect magazine boyfriend.

 

Lacey sits down next to Regina. Her brow furrows. "You okay? That guy isn't still giving you any trouble, right?"

Regina shakes her head. "Not lately. I think he's finally learned to leave me alone."

"Good. I’m glad."

The girls are interrupted by Henry coming out of his room and into the kitchen. "Hey, Lacey," he says as he passes them and goes straight for the pantry.

Lacey stands up and closes the cupboard door before he can grab anything. "Hey, little man, we're gonna be having dinner soon so no snacks."

Henry pushes his lip into a pout but doesn't argue.

"How's pizza sound to everyone?"

Regina perks up a bit at that; pizza is one of the few things she actually knows now thanks to Emma. "I could eat pizza," she agrees.

Lacey nods and grabs the phone to place the order.

Regina glances at the clock. Emma and Walsh will be at the restaurant by now. She wonders what they’re talking about...

 

Emma is speechless. There he is, her boyfriend of only eight months, kneeling in front of her with a glittering ring in his hand.

"Emma, will you marry me?"

Emma bites her lip. "I... I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"I mean, don't you think it's a little fast? We've been dating for less than a year, for Christ's sake."

Walsh stands up with a barely concealed sigh. "You don't have to decide anything tonight. But I love you, and I love Henry, and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you guys." He takes her hand and gently slips the ring onto her finger. "Keep this. Whether you say yes or no, I want you to have it."

Emma chews on the inside of her cheek, biting hard enough to draw blood. She stares at the sparkling diamond on her finger. "I'll think about it."

"That's all I ask."

"Can you... can you take me home?" she asks hesitantly.

"Of course." Walsh pays for dinner and they leave the restaurant at only 8:00.

 

After dinner, Henry goes straight back to his room, leaving Regina and Lacey alone to chat.

"You still like Emma?" Lacey prods.

Regina shakes her head. "It only lasted for a little bit. I'm over it by now," she lies, praying Lacey won't see through her.

"Good. Because I know someone you might be interested in – if you're looking for someone, that is."

Regina raises an eyebrow. "You want to set me up?"

"Yeah, she's great. You'll love her."

"Tell me about her."

Lacey grins "Her name's Daniela. She's really pretty and she works at a farm out in the country teaching kids how to ride horses."

Regina bites back a gasp. Of the few things she misses of home her horse, Rocinante, is at the top of the list. She feels her wings flutter just thinking about the feeling she got when she rode him. But when her mother found out she made Regina stop at once; riding a horse just because it was fun was selfish. "She sounds wonderful," she agrees.

"Do you want me to give her a call for you? You could do dinner next week."

Regina thinks a moment. "Sure. Why not?"

Lacey claps her hands twice and pulls out her cell phone to call her friend.

It’s then that the door opens and Emma comes home with Walsh behind her. Lacey smiles at her in greeting before disappearing down the hallway to talk to Daniela.

Walsh's eyes narrow when he sees Regina. He turns to Emma. "She's still here?"

The color drains from Emma's face. "Can we talk in the hall?" She ushers him out of the apartment, leaving Regina sitting on the couch and wondering what she's done.

 

"She needed my help."

"Yeah, for one night, maybe two. It's been a month, Emma."

Emma sighs. "She just hasn’t quite gained her footing yet. I can't just throw her out on her own. Besides, she’s become a good friend to me."

"You know, sometimes you're just too chivalrous for your own good."

Emma snorts. "Please. Look, I don't see what the big deal is. What problem do you have with Regina?"

"I don't have a problem with Regina!" Walsh exclaims. "I have a problem with you living with an attractive woman and not telling me about it!"

Emma recoils as though from a physical blow. "That's what this is about? You're jealous of her?" She tries her best not to think about that kiss, about why his suspicions are correct, but the memory of Regina's lips won't leave her. She chews on her bottom lip and hopes he won't see right through her.

"I have every reason to be, don't I? You cheated on Henry's dad with that girl you told me about. What's stopping you from doing it to me?"

"I think it's time for you to go."

"Couldn't agree more." Walsh turns and storms off.

Emma stares at her hand, the one where Walsh's ring sits. She sighs and goes back inside.

"Is he angry with me?" Regina asks quietly.

Emma shakes her head. "He's mad at me. But he'll be fine."

Lacey comes out of the hallway with a wide grin. She turns to Regina. "Next Friday at 7:00," she says. Then she turns to Emma. "See you later, Em." She grabs her purse from the kitchen counter and makes a quick exit.

Emma raises her eyebrows. "What's next Friday?"

Regina flushes pink. "Lacey thought it would be a good idea to set me up on a blind date with this friend of hers. She sounded lovely so I thought I'd give it a shot."

Emma really hopes that Regina doesn’t see her face fall, and she refuses to think about why it does at all. She smiles. "That sounds awesome." She hurries to her bedroom and shuts the door behind her. After a moment's hesitation, she picks up her phone and dials a number that’s more habit at this point than anything else. "Walsh?" she says quietly. "I'm sorry. About everything."

Walsh sighs. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions."

"I promise you there's nothing between Regina and me." Her stomach churns as she thinks about Regina on a date with some stranger, about Regina marrying a faceless woman in a white gown. She lifts her hand to her lap and watches in fascination as the ring on her finger catches the light in so many different ways. "And I want to answer your question from tonight." She takes a deep breath to steel herself for what she’s about to do. But she’s making the right choice. She has to be.

"Yes."

Chapter Text

Regina’s first day of work. She straightens her blazer, turning at all different angles to examine herself in the mirror. She finally got her makeup to look good, combining the eye technique Emma had shown her with a coat of what she thinks is her favorite blood red lipstick. Her wings flutters nervously, but just as she reaches back to soothe them with her touch, the bedroom door opens. She quickly folds her wings behind her back and drops her hands to her sides.

Emma grins. “You nervous?”

Regina lets out a breathy laugh. “That’s an understatement.”

Emma reaches out and squeezes Regina’s arm comfortingly. “You’ll do fine. Promise.”

Regina looks down at where Emma’s hand clutches her forearm, staring at the glittering diamond on the blonde’s finger. She saw it on Friday, of course; she isn’t stupid. Although Emma must be if she thought Regina wouldn’t notice. She’d be lying if she said she isn’t even a little bit hurt that Emma hasn’t told her yet. Although… she’s sure Emma has her reasons. “Thank you,” she says simply.

“I’ve got something for you.” Emma goes over to the nightstand and grabs her wallet. She pulls out a small slip of paper and hands it to Regina. “It’s a subway ticket. It’ll last you a year; you can use it whenever you need to get somewhere. You know, since you’ve got a commute and all now.”

Regina smiles softly. “Thank you, Emma. But… I don’t know which one to take.”

“I’ll come with you today. I was going to anyway; I want to make sure you get to your first day all right and everything.”

“That’s very chivalrous of you.”

Emma gets a look on her face that Regina can’t quite decipher, but it’s only there for a second before she wipes it away. “We should get going if you wanna be there on time.”

“Of course.” Regina grabs her brand new purse from the bed, the one that’s filled with things she probably won’t even need – wallet (empty), hand sanitizer, a few tampons (probably her favorite thing about this world if she’s being honest). She put them in just in case.

“Henry, let’s go,” Emma calls, banging on his door on their way past. “We’ve gotta drop you off at school.” With a sigh, Henry emerges from his room and follows the women out of the apartment and down to the car. They drop Henry off at his school and he hops out of the car with a simple, “bye”, not even waiting long enough for his mother to kiss his forehead.

Regina twists her fingers nervously as Emma drives to the train station, forcing herself to calm down when they arrive.

“Lemme guess,” Emma says as they approach the map. “You’ve never been on a train before.”

Regina blushes. “You got me.”

“Jesus, did you ever even leave your house until now?”

“I… not really, no.” In all honesty, Regina can’t remember the last time she left her palace unsupervised. She was a queen, yes, but she was a prisoner in her own castle.

Emma turns back to the map and begins pointing to where Regina needs to go. “So you’ll take the blue line for two stops then get off and connect to the green, and get off on the third stop. Then you’ll walk two blocks to the mall and Queen will be on the second floor.”

Regina bites her lip. She has no idea what half of that means. “Can you come with me?” she asks timidly. “Just for today; to make sure I do it right.”

Emma smiles. “I took the day off just for that reason. Come on.” She grabs Regina’s hand and pulls her through the bustling crowd, searching for their platform. Finally, after endless amounts of zigzagging and checking the signs, they make it just as the train is pulling in.

There aren’t any seats available.

Emma says that they have to stand and hold onto the grips above their heads. Regina doesn’t trust the cleanliness of the subway, so she digs in her purse for her small package of tissues and uses one to grip the handle overhead. The train lurches, causing her to nearly collide with Emma. “Sorry,” she says with a blush.

Emma grins. “It’s all good. Just try to hold steady. Plant your feet.”

Regina nods and firmly sets her feet into the floor. The heels and tight skirt she chose don’t help, but she manages. After two stops, Emma touches her arm and gestures toward the door with her head, and they get off the train.

“Now what?” Regina asks.

“Now we find the green line.” Emma goes to the station map and locates the platform, and the two women begin jogging – a sight to see in Regina’s shoes – to get there in a timely manner. When they arrive, they still have two minutes to spare before the next train comes in. “So we’re gonna get off on the third stop on this one,” Emma says, slightly out of breath.

Regina nods. “Thanks again. For everything you’ve done this past month. You’ve done so much more than I ever could have asked for.”

Emma smiles. “You know, I wouldn’t normally. I just… I noticed something about you that first night we met. I don’t know what it was, but it made me trust you.”

Regina bites her lip. “I wouldn’t normally have trusted you either,” she admits. “But you seemed genuine.” She uses the same word Emma said on that morning after her first night at the apartment. It seems so much longer than a month; so much more has happened than should be able to fit in thirty short days. “Someday I’ll make it up to you. I’ll return every penny you’ve ever spent for me. I swear I will.”

Her train of thought is interrupted when a real-life train pulls up in front of them. Emma smiles. “Let’s go.”

They have to stand again; riding through two stops before getting off at the third. They go up the stairs, finally aboveground again, and Emma points left. “The mall is two blocks this way.” So they walk. They pass shops and restaurants and beggars (Regina wants to give them something but Emma steers her away).

Queen is on the second floor, just as Emma said. Regina’s manager approaches with a smile. “Hi, you must be Regina,” he greets them in a slight accent. “I’m Killian, your manager. Follow me.”

Regina glances uncertainly at Emma.

Emma smiles encouragingly. “I’ll come back when it’s your lunch break and we can get something to eat.” She pulls Regina into a hug. “Good luck,” she whispers in her ear. Then she leaves the store and leaves Regina alone with Killian.

Killian grins “Your girlfriend?”

Regina’s eyes widen. “What? I-” she breaks off. “No,” she sighs. “No.”

Killian pats her shoulder. “The way you both look at each other I’m surprised. Come with me.” He leads her back behind the registers and into a small back room. “You’re already wearing something that follows the company dress code, so you don’t need to change. Here’s your nametag.” He hands her a small piece of plastic with Regina written on it in fancy script. It has a clip on the back, so she attaches it to the lapels of her blazer.

“’S an old name, ‘Regina’,” Killian comments. “Not one you hear often nowadays. You named after a family member?”

Regina shakes her head. “It means ‘queen’. My mother wanted me to go far in life.”

Killian chuckles. “Well no wonder you wanted to work here. The store’s named after you.” They both take a moment to laugh, and Regina starts to feel more at ease with this man who’s to be her manager.

“All right, come with me,” Killian says. “You’ll be working out on the floor helping customers find what they’re looking for.” He leads her out into the store, stationing her among the various clothing racks. “If you see someone who looks a bit lost go up to them and ask if they need any help.” He checks his watch. “We open in five. Next week you’ll be on registers, but I’ll show you that then. Any questions?”

Regina shakes her head.

“All right. Your lunch break’s at 12:30. Lemme know if you need anything.” He grins encouragingly before going back to the registers to talk to the young girls running them.

Soon people begin filtering in, searching through the racks. Regina hesitantly approaches one decent-looking young woman. “Can I help you find anything?” she asks politely.

The woman looks up at her. “I’ve got a wedding to go to in two weeks and I have no idea what would look good on me.”

Regina grins. This she can do. Back home, she’d sometimes have Tinker Bell change her white gown into all different colors and styles, just for fun. It turned her into something of an expert. She looks the woman up and down. “Fair skin and blonde hair, you want jewel colors.”

Regina glances around, locating a rack of dresses. “Come with me.” She leads the woman to the rack. “What’s your size?”

The woman blushes, and Regina wonders briefly if she should have asked that. “I’m a four,” the woman says.

Regina pulls a few options for a size four; a dark red sleeveless, a green long-sleeved, and a royal blue strapless. “These would all look great on you. The colors bring out the blonde in your hair, and the cut will enhance your figure.”

The woman smiles. “Thank you so much; you’re a real life saver.” She begins to walk away.

“Wait,” Regina says. “You’re my first customer. Can I know your name?”

“Ashley.” She smiles. “Good luck with the new job,” she pauses, glancing at Regina’s nametag. “Regina.” She leaves with the dresses.

Regina smiles. She feels a tap on her shoulder and turns around, expecting another customer. She tenses as she makes eye contact with the man in front of her. “What the hell are you doing here?” she demands through clenched teeth.

“I know you were there when I came to your friend’s apartment,” Robin says angrily. “And I know who you’re staying with and where you work.” He glances down at her chest, his gaze lingering much too long for her comfort. “And I know you’re avoiding me, Regina.” She hates the way he says her name; it sounds slimy and wrong coming from his mouth.

“You need to leave right now.”

Robin shakes his head with a wicked grin. “I think I’m gonna shop for a while. And you’re gonna help me.”

 

Emma checks the time on her phone, smiling when she sees that it’s 12:25. She makes her way through the mall until she arrives at Regina’s store. She spots Regina near the back of the store talking to a customer.

As she gets closer, she recognizes the man. Robin. Emma walks faster, approaching Regina and Robin. “He giving you trouble?” she asks Regina.

Regina looks scared, but she doesn’t say anything.

Emma narrows her eyes at Robin. “I thought I told you to leave her alone.”

“You told me not to lay a hand on her. I haven’t touched her.”

“Did he touch you?” she asks Regina.

Regina bites her lip. “He tapped me on the shoulder,” she says quietly. “That’s all.”

Emma feels the rage boiling in her stomach as she looks at Robin. “I’m a man of my word.” She places a well-aimed kick right in the middle of his shin.

She grabs Regina’s hand. “Come on, it’s 12:30. Let’s go.” She makes to leave the store, but stops when she sees Killian standing by the doors. She turns to Regina. “Go down to the food court; I’ll be there in a minute.” After Regina has gone, Emma approaches Killian. “Excuse me,” she says. “I’m Emma, you remember me from this morning.”

“Aye. You’re going to lunch now?”

“Yeah, I just wanted to talk to you for a sec first.” She points to the back of the store. “There’s a guy back there named Robin; kinda tall, brown hair, probably has a large bruise on his shin. He’s been giving Regina some trouble lately.”

Killian frowns. “I see.”

“I’d appreciate if you could try to keep him away from her. Do what you gotta do to make sure she’s okay.”

Killian nods. “Employee safety is number one. I’ll do what I can.”

Emma smiles gratefully. “Thank you.” She leaves the store and walks down to the food court to meet Regina for lunch, silently plotting ways to kill Robin the whole way down.

Chapter Text

Emma sits down at the table after spooning the pasta out onto Henry’s and Regina’s plates, a serious look on her face. “Look, I know I missed last Friday’s dinner…”

Henry doesn’t say anything as he twists a few noodles around his fork. Regina bites her lip; she thinks she knows what Emma’s about to say next. She’s been waiting all week for Emma to reveal the big news, and she’s more than a little annoyed that Emma waited a full seven days to do so.

“You know I was out with Walsh – that’s, uh, actually what this is about. He asked me something… something, uh, pretty big.” Emma pauses. “He asked me to marry him.”

Henry freezes with his fork halfway to his mouth, slowly raising his gaze to meet his mother’s. “You said no, right?”

Emma frowns. “I said yes.”

Regina tenses as the boy stands up from the table and storms off to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Emma sighs. “I’ll be back.” She gets up and follows Henry.

Regina sighs and stares at her plate, finding her appetite not-so-mysteriously absent. She’d been worried about this from the moment she saw the diamond on Emma’s finger. It’s no secret that Henry doesn’t particularly like Walsh; having the man in his life full-time is bound to make him unhappy. Not that Regina’s particularly pleased; Walsh was clearly upset that Regina’s still in Emma’s life – their marriage might mean giving her the boot.

She’s startled by Emma walking back into the kitchen with a defeated look on her face. “He won’t talk to me.”

Regina stands up. “Let me try.” She rests a soothing hand on Emma’s forearm and offers a supportive smile, both quite contrary to the storm of conflicting emotions inside her. She knocks gently on Henry’s door before going into the room where the boy is completely concealed beneath the covers.

Regina closes the door behind her and sits on the foot of Henry’s bed. “Henry, what’s wrong?” she asks softly. “Are you upset that your mother is going to get married?”

Henry’s head emerges from the pile of blankets. “I’m not mad about that,” he sniffs. “I’ve wanted her to get married for a while. I’m mad that it’s Walsh.”

“Why?”

“I hate him! And my mom doesn’t love him; she never has. He’s not nice to me and he’s not nice to her either.”

“Why would she agree to marry him if she didn’t love him? Henry, she’s happy with Walsh, and she wants you to be happy for her. You know she won’t be happy if you’re not there to support her.” Regina’s voice strains against the words. She doesn’t want to say them – she doesn’t want to believe them; she wants to run to Emma and beg her to leave Walsh, kiss her until she does, but she can’t do that.

She has to let Emma be happy.

“She can’t marry him if she’s in love with you,” Henry pleads.

Regina’s eyebrows shoot up into her hairline. “With me? Henry, come on now.”

“Don’t you see it? It’s the way she looks at you… like she never wants to stop looking at you. I may only be twelve, but I’m not stupid. She’s in love with you, and you love her too.”

Regina sighs. She rests a hand on Henry’s knee and squeezes comfortingly. She wants so desperately to say no, to deny it, but she can’t lie to him – or to herself – any longer. “Yes, I do love your mother,” she sighs. She pauses as Henry grins triumphantly. “However, it is precisely because I love her that I can’t interfere with her engagement to Walsh. Because loving someone means wanting them to be happy, no matter what, and if she’s happy with Walsh then…” She takes a deep breath before continuing. “I have to let her go. Do you understand me?”

Henry nods slowly. “I think so.”

Regina smiles. “Good.”

And the two chat on, completely oblivious to the person listening from outside the room.

 

Emma feels her chest constrict, all her breath leaving her. Regina… loves her?

“The little minx told me it didn’t mean anything,” she grumbles. But what does this mean for them? Emma would be lying if she said she didn’t have any feelings at all for Regina… but love? That’s a strong word – definitely too strong to use here.

But what does this mean for her and Walsh? She doesn’t feel the same way about him as she does about Regina; she knows that much. She was actually planning on breaking up with him the night he proposed. So why did she say yes? She most certainly didn’t want to at first.

But then Regina said she had a date with someone else.

Emma supposes that must have set her over the edge. She sighs. No wonder Henry’s angry with her; even he can tell that she doesn’t love Walsh. Even he can see the connection between his mother and their houseguest.

The doorknob turns, rousing Emma from her thoughts. She hurries back to the kitchen before Regina comes out of Henry’s room with a half-hearted smile on her face.

“What did he say?” Emma asks, as though she doesn’t already know.

Regina shrugs. “He wouldn’t say much to me either, other than that he doesn’t like Walsh all that much.”

Emma sighs. She can understand why Regina would lie (and she’d probably do it herself were their roles reversed), but that doesn’t make it sting any less. “What do you think I should do?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well I can’t have the guy become Henry’s stepdad if Henry doesn’t like him…” Emma trails off.

Regina comes closer and takes Emma’s hand. “I think you need to do what’s best for all three of you; whatever that may be.”

“And what about what’s best for you?” Emma’s voice is quiet and breathy at the feel of Regina so close to her.

Regina smiles, a twinge of sadness reflected in her dark brown eyes. “I’m only a guest.”

“No way,” Emma protests. “You’re more than just a guest in this apartment, Regina. You’re a part of our family now.”

“I’ve only been here a month, I…”

“That doesn’t matter. You were part of our family after three days, and that’s not gonna change, okay? And if Walsh doesn’t want you here, then screw him; I’ll dump him.”

Regina shakes her head. “Don’t break up with him on my account.”

Emma sighs. “Look. I want you here. And I know once Walsh moves in after the wedding it’ll be a bit cramped but we’ll figure something out. Okay?”

Regina’s voice comes as a whisper. “Okay.”

 

Regina knocks gently on Henry’s door, smiling when she finds the boy sitting on the floor writing and doodling in his notebook. “Hello,” she says quietly.

He looks up with a grin. “Hey.”

“You look like you’re doing better.”

He nods. “I figured out a plan. Look.” He holds up the notebook. He’s spent the last half hour drawing up plans to make his mother leave Walsh and realize she’s in love with Regina instead.

Regina closes the bedroom door and walks over to him to take the notebook. She frowns as she reads through the page. “Henry, you can’t break up your mother and Walsh,” she sighs as she hands the notebook back to him. “I thought we agreed we want her to be happy.”

“I do!” he says defensively. “And she’s not happy with him! Trust me, I know my mom. She’s not happy with Walsh.”

“Henry…”

“Please, you have to help me with this!”

Regina shakes her head. “I can’t do that, Henry, and you can’t either.”

Henry frowns. Can’t Regina see that his mom loves her? Is she really that blind? “Can I have my notebook back?”

Regina hesitates.

“I won’t do anything to break up my mom and Walsh,” he sighs.

Relenting, Regina hands his notebook back. “Thank you.” As she leaves the room, Henry reopens his notebook to the page where he drew up his plans.

He sighs. Soon enough his mom will realize that Walsh isn’t good for her and Regina is – he just has to have faith that she’ll do that before it’s too late. He puts the notebook away and opens his textbook to start on his homework.

 

Regina lies in the bed beside Emma, an awkward silence existing between the two of them. “You never told me the story of your tattoo.”

Emma laughs out loud. “I completely forgot about that. Okay, before I tell you this you have to promise you won’t laugh at me.”

Regina raises an eyebrow. “I can’t promise anything, you know that.”

Emma rolls her eyes and playfully pushes Regina’s shoulder. “Okay so it was my sixteenth birthday…”

 

“Neal!” Emma shrieked as his fingers tickled her stomach. “Stop it!” Her words were barely coherent through her laughter.

“Come on, let’s do it!” he whispered in her ear. “We’re young, we’re drunk, and it is your birthday, after all.”

Emma sighed and pulled herself out of his arms. “I don’t know… I mean what if they reject my fake ID?”

“They won’t. It’s never been rejected before, why would it be now?”

Emma bit her lip. “I… okay.”

Neal grinned and kissed her cheek. “I’ll get one too. And you can pick what I get.”

Emma raised her eyebrows. “Oh, that was a bad idea, Cassidy.”

They drove in Neal’s bug to the nearest tattoo shop and flashed their IDs. Emma scanned the generic options, but none of them appealed to her. Then she reached in her pocket for her drawing. She’d drawn it yesterday, having known Neal’s plans for her birthday for almost a week now.

It was a lion. It stood fiercely against a black shield, intricate floral patterns surrounding both the lion and the shield. She wasn’t sure why she liked it, but something drew her to it. She handed the drawing to the tattoo artist.

“Where do you want it?” the man asked gruffly.

After only a second’s hesitation, Emma turned around and pulled her pants down and her shirt up just far enough for a section of skin to be revealed at the small of her back.

Neal laughed loudly. “A tramp stamp?” He held up his hand for a high-five, which Emma swiftly delivered.

A girl came out of the back as the man began Emma’s tattoo. “Need someone to do yours?” she asked Neal.

Neal grinned and nodded, while Emma narrowed her eyes at the girl. Emma chose a dream catcher design for Neal’s bicep, resisting the urge to point to the pink daisy design, and he accepted her choice with a smile. The girl began Neal’s tattoo as the man continued Emma’s.

Unfortunately, Neal had underestimated how long Emma’s tattoo would take. He was out of the chair after two hours, while Emma was only a third of the way done. It was nearly 6:00 by then, so Neal popped out and brought Emma a cheeseburger.

Emma’s tattoo was finished just before midnight. And it was expensive. Neal had just gotten a loot three days prior, and he blew nearly all of it on their tattoos.

Emma wrapped her arms around Neal’s neck and kissed him. “I love it,” she said with a grin. “And I love yours.”

Neal smiled. “I love you. Happy birthday, Em.”

 

Regina raises an eyebrow as Emma finishes her story. “You got a tattoo when you were drunk?”

“It wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made but I mean, it could have been worse. I could have gotten Neal’s name tattooed across my boob or something.”

Regina nearly doubles over with laughter at that. “Well I’m glad you didn’t do that.”

Emma snorts. “So am I.”

“So… what do you think you’re going to do about Walsh?”

Emma sighs. “I don’t know. I mean I don’t want to force a stepdad on Henry he’s not gonna like…” she trails off with another sigh. “I just don’t know.”

Regina leans over and rests a comforting hand on Emma’s knee. “You know I’m here for you whatever you decide.”

Emma smiles. “Thank you.” She rests her head on Regina’s shoulder, causing Regina’s heart to race. “You know, I’m really glad you came to stay,” she yawns, already falling asleep.

Regina smiles softly and runs her fingers through long blonde curls. “Me too,” she whispers. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

Regina glances nervously at the clock as she stands in front of the mirror. She smooths nonexistent wrinkles out of her black satin dress, wings fluttering in anticipation. Daniela’s supposed to be there to pick her up in ten minutes and Regina has absolutely no idea how to behave on a date. Back in her kingdom, no was allowed to court or even act upon feelings of love.

That would be selfish.

Emma comes into the bedroom, eyebrows shooting up when she sees Regina’s dress. “Damn,” she says appreciatively, scanning up and down the length of her body. “You look hot.”

Regina smiles with a slight blush. “Thank you.” She tries to still her wings, but it’s hopeless. She’s surprised she hasn’t lifted off of the ground in flight yet. She bites her lip. “Emma… can you help me with something?”

Emma sits down on the bed. “Yeah, what’s up?”

Regina sits tentatively beside her. She runs her fingers through her hair. She still hasn’t gotten used to the shorter length – it’s like there was a giant mass weighing on her head that’s suddenly vanished. “How do I behave on a date?”

Emma grins and shakes her head. “Of course you wouldn’t have been on one. I don’t know, I guess… just be yourself. Talk about the things you like and listen when she talks about what she likes. If she doesn’t love you after five minutes, she’s crazy,” she adds quietly, reaching over and giving Regina’s leg a supportive squeeze. “And if you feel like you need to bail early just call and I’ll come get you.”

“I don’t have a cell phone,” Regina reminds her with a sheepish smile.

“Yeah, about that.” Emma digs in her pocket, producing a small black cell phone. “You’re definitely gonna need this at some point.” She hands it to Regina, gently pressing it into her fingers.

“Thank you, Emma.” Regina leans in and gives Emma a tight hug.

Emma pulls away. “One more thing. Henry’s got a play practice tonight, so we won’t be here to let you in when you get back.” She fishes in her pocket again, this time producing a set of two silver keys on a small ring. She smiles, dropping the key into Regina’s hand. “It’s about time you had a key to the apartment. The big one is for the building door and the small one is for our apartment specifically.”

Regina feels tears welling in her eyes, but she forces them back, not wanting to let Emma see the emotions the key made her feel (not to mention the fact that she just applied her mascara). She places the key in her small purse and slings it over her shoulder. She opens her mouth to say something, but she’s interrupted before she can.

“Daniela’s here!” Henry hollers from the living room. He sounds slightly bitter, as though Regina’s betraying him, but she forces herself not to think about that. She gets up and smooths her dress one more time in the mirror before taking a deep breath and going out into the front room, where Daniela is standing in the doorway in front of Henry.

She’s beautiful.

She wears a light blue dress that complements the nearly identical hue of her eyes, her long brown hair falling around her face and shoulders in loose curls. She smiles, a radiant smile that has Regina’s wings quivering with nerves.

Regina walks over, putting a hand on Henry’s shoulder. “You didn’t invite her in?”

Daniela shakes her head. “It’s fine; I was only waiting for a minute.” She’s quite a bit taller than Regina, the difference made even more apparent in the black stiletto heels on her feet. “Are you ready?”

Regina nods. “Let me just get my shoes.” She slips her feet into the black pumps Emma had bought her on that trip to the mall and adjusts her purse on her shoulder. With the shoes on she’s a bit taller, but Daniela still has three or four inches on her.

Regina turns to Emma. “I’ll see you later.”

Emma smiles. “Have fun, you two.”

Daniela leads Regina down to her car. “So, was that your son?” she asks casually, but Regina can hear the tightness in her voice.

“No, he’s my roommate’s son.” Roommate? Is that what Emma is? She shakes her head, determined not to think of Emma while she’s on a date with a beautiful woman. “I rather enjoy his company, though,” she adds. “He’s a nice boy.”

“He seemed nice. Could learn a thing or two about door-answering etiquette,” she adds with a laugh.

Regina frowns. “He’s only twelve,” she says quietly, finding herself highly defensive of Emma and Henry; as Emma said, they’re her family, and she’d defend them until her last breath.

Daniela shrugs. “He was pretty polite. Seemed like a good kid.” She pulls into the restaurant parking lot, getting out of the car and hurrying over to open Regina’s door.

Regina smiles as she took the hand Daniela offers her and gets out. The place seems nice, and probably very expensive. She really has to be sure not to blow it now.

“I have a reservation under the name of Michelson,” she tells the host, who leads them to a table in the back.

“So,” Daniela says as she opens her menu. “What do you do?”

“Like my job?”

“Yeah.”

Regina hesitates for a moment. “I’m the manager of a store in the mall.” A white lie, but she’s already having doubts she’ll be going out with Daniela again. An exaggeration of the truth won’t hurt anyone. “What about you?”

“I work out at a ranch about an hour out of the city teaching horseback riding lessons for kids.”

Regina smiles. “I used to ride. I had the most wonderful horse.”

“Why did you stop?” Daniela asks, leaning forward. It’s the most interested she’s seemed to be in Regina since they left the apartment.

Regina bites her lip, suddenly uncomfortable. “My mother… she didn’t approve. I suppose I just never started again.”

“Well then you should definitely come by the ranch. We’ve got horses you can ride whenever you want.”

“Maybe I will,” Regina says half-heartedly. She scans her menu. “So what do you think you’re going to order?”

Daniela purses her lips in thought. “The salmon looks good. What about you? Dinner’s on me, of course, so don’t worry about the price.”

Regina feels a slight prickling in her spine at that statement, but she can’t quite pinpoint why it makes her so uncomfortable. “I might get the lamb.”

After ordering, Daniela leans forward over the table again. “So Lacey said you’ve only been living in the city for a month.”

So she didn’t mention my previous state of homelessness. Interesting, Regina thinks. “Yes.”

“Where did you live before that?”

Regina thinks a moment. “I lived with my mother for a while when I was unemployed,” she says, changing a few details to fit this world. “in Tallahassee.” It’s a city she heard about from Emma, the only one that comes to mind. “She asked me to leave so I did. I don’t know why I came to Manhattan; I guess something brought me here.”

Daniela nods. “It’s a city full of opportunities.”

The food arrives, plates steaming. They eat mostly without speaking, with only a few pieces of small talk here and there. Then after dinner comes the part Regina had been dreading.

Daniela pays, as promised, and the two of them go back to her car. “So,” Daniela says as she started the engine. “Shall we take this back to my place?” Her voice suggests something more than wine and small talk, and Regina isn’t sure that she’s ready for that.

No, she knows she isn’t ready for that.

“I think… I should go home and get some sleep. I’ve got work in the morning,” she says, fishing for an excuse.

Daniela frowns, but quickly recovers. “Okay.” She drives Regina home, the entire ride spent in uncomfortable silence.

The car pulls up in front of the apartments, and Daniela starts getting out. “Let me walk you up,” she offers. “It’s the least I can do.”

Regina nods wordlessly. She pulls the keys Emma gave her out of her purse and after a few embarrassing tries, fits the key into the lock and opens the front door.

The two women ride the elevator up to the fourth floor, and approach Emma’s apartment. Lacey’s exiting her apartment when she sees them. She grins and winks at them as she passes by, though Regina isn’t sure if it’s aimed at her or Daniela.

She opens the apartment door and goes inside, turning to Daniela. “Would you like to stay for a drink?”

Daniela smiles. “That sounds nice.”

Regina drops the keys on the kitchen counter, unsure of where else to put them, and looks in the refrigerator for a nice bottle of red wine. She pours two glasses and hands one to Daniela, who sips it appreciatively.

They spend the time in awkward silence, neither woman quite knowing what to say and neither one willing to speak up and say the wrong thing. When the glasses have been drained, Regina walks Daniela to the front door.

“I had a good time,” Daniela says with a smile. “I’m glad Lacey set this up.”

Regina nods, forcing herself to return the smile. “Me too.”

“Can I call you?”

“I’d like that.”

Daniela grins, then begins leaning forward. Her lips meet Regina’s, softly and lightly, almost as though she were asking a question with her kiss.

Regina holds it for a moment, considering kissing back. No, she thinks. This is wrong. She’s not the one I want. She pulls away, not meeting Daniela’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” she says quietly. “I just… there’s someone I know and I… I can’t do this. I might love her.”

Daniela nods, looking like she understands. “Your roommate. Emma.”

Regina looks up, finally looking Daniela in the eye. “How did you-”

“I saw the way you were looking at her. “Only an idiot wouldn’t be able to tell how you feel about her.”

“I’m sorry, Daniela.”

“I understand. I still had a nice time with you tonight. Good luck with Emma.” She bends her head to press one light kiss to Regina’s lips before leaving the apartment and closing the door behind her.

 

Emma tries her best to focus on what her son is saying, but her mind keeps drifting to Regina and Daniela. When Regina first told Emma about her, Emma pictured a rough, calloused woman with a hard jaw and an awful haircut. The woman that came to the door could be a supermodel rather than a riding instructor.

“Ma?” Henry’s voice comes from beside her.

Emma shakes her head. “Sorry, what?”

Henry frowns. “I asked you if you ordered my costume yet.”

Emma sighs. “Right. Sorry. Yeah, I gave your teacher the form at your last rehearsal.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, why do you ask?”

“Well, you haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve been saying and you missed the turn to my school a mile ago.”

“Shit,” Emma hisses, checking behind her to see if she can make a U-turn. “Why didn’t you tell me a mile ago?”

“I did. Twice. You didn’t hear me.”

Emma pulls over to the shoulder to take a moment to gather herself.

“Ma, I know something’s up; I’m not stupid. What’s going on?”

Emma presses her fingertips to her temples, slowly rubbing up and down. “I’m just kind of messed up tonight is all.”

“Because of Regina’s date with Daniela.”

“Look, kid, I don’t know where you get the idea that I’m in love with Regina, but you’re wrong, okay? I’m gonna marry Walsh, not Regina.” She tries her best not to sound bitter – or to think about why she’s even bitter at all.

Henry’s eyebrows knit together in a concerned expression. “I know something happened between you guys at the cabin.”

“What?” Emma’s heart pounds. Does Henry know about the kiss?

“Come on, you’d have to be blind not to notice. One minute we were making lunch and you guys were fine, but when we came back to eat you were all tense and weird. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.”

“That was just… it was a one-time thing okay? And since when do you get to tell me who I love and don’t love anyhow?”

“Since you stopped being able to tell for yourself.”

Chapter Text

That small sense of security Regina had dissipates slowly over the course of two months. It starts the week after Emma’s announcement, when Walsh brings his coffee maker over. It really wouldn’t be a big deal… if he hadn’t continued to move more of his stuff into the apartment. Emma seems a bit uncomfortable with this, but she doesn’t say anything.

Then he starts sleeping over.

Regina’s forced back out onto the couch, a sense of loneliness coming over her at the prospect of sleeping alone again. She only lasts a week on the couch before she sneaks into Henry’s room one night while he’s sleeping at a friend’s and makes a Google search on his desktop computer.

Inexpensive apartments in Manhattan.

She spends nearly an hour scrolling through the results before she finds one that catches her eye. It’s only a few blocks from Emma’s apartment, a two-bedroom place with one bathroom. She’d have a roommate; someone named Nina. And what really catches her attention is the price. The rent is only $1200 per month, which means each of them would pay $600. She quickly scribbles down the phone number and closes the window.

Emma and Walsh are in Emma’s room, doing exactly what Regina thinks they’re doing. I guess now is as good a time as any, Regina thinks. She pulls out her phone and dials the number Nina gave online.

“Hello?” a perky Australian woman answers.

“Hello, is this Nina Alden?”

“That’s me!”

Regina bites her lip. “I’m calling about the apartment, if the room is still available for rent.”

“Oh yeah, it’s definitely still available. Would you like to come over and take a look at it sometime this week?”

Regina pauses, glancing behind her at the bedroom. “I can come tomorrow if you’re free.”

“Sounds good! What’s your name again?”

“Regina Mills.”

There’s a brief silence on the other end of the line. Then, “All right, Regina, why don’t you come by around 6:00 tomorrow?”

“I get off of work at 6:00; how about 6:30?”

“Sounds good to me!”

Regina ignores the churning in her stomach. “Excellent. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Bye!”

Regina hangs up, a sense of guilt washing over her. She shakes her head. This is for the best.

The bedroom door opens and Emma comes out, wearing a loose blue button-down shirt that Regina vaguely recognizes with a pang as the one she wore to Henry’s first rehearsal all that time ago.

Emma smiled. "That's my favorite shirt." She ran a bit of the material between her fingers.

"Oh, I'm sorry, did you want to wear it?"

"No," Emma said softly. She cleared her throat. "It looks better on you anyway."

“Hey,” Emma says, pulling Regina out of the memory.

Regina forces herself to smile. “How’s Walsh?”

Something passes over Emma’s face. She sighs. “I know what you’re thinking, okay? I’m not exactly happy about the fact that he’s basically moving himself in either. He’s just a little weird about you being here and I guess he’s just ‘marking his territory’. I guess we should be glad he’s not peeing all over everything huh?”

Regina gives a half-hearted laugh. “I’m coming home late tomorrow,” she says. “Killian invited me for a drink.” She hates lying to Emma, hates sneaking around behind the back of the woman who basically saved her life three months ago.

Something flickers in Emma’s eyes, but it’s gone before Regina can figure out what it was. “Okay. Have fun.” Emma turns abruptly and goes back into her bedroom, where Regina just barely glimpses Walsh lying completely naked on Emma’s bed.

 

At 6:00, Regina leaves the store with a churning stomach and a guilty conscience. She takes the subway down to the address Nina gave on the website, has the woman buzz her in, and takes the elevator up to the third floor.

Regina pauses outside of the door marked 312. This is her last chance to change her mind; her last chance to go home and never even think about leaving Emma again.

She knocks.

The door is opened by a blonde woman with a wide smile on her face. She looks hauntingly familiar. Her hair is straightened and she wears it loose, but there’s no mistaking that face and those twinkling blue eyes.

“Tink?” Regina exclaims before she can stop herself.

Tinker Bell grins. She puts a finger to her lips and hushes her. "Here I'm Nina."

"What are you doing here?"

"Making sure you're okay of course! I left as soon as I heard you were banished; landed just a few days after you. Been trying to find you ever since, and here you are!"

“Wait, you didn’t buy this apartment just so I would move in, did you?” Regina can’t hide her grin, overjoyed that she’s finally found an old friend in a new world.

Tink shakes her head. “I gave myself a bit of money; just enough to get by. I’ve been living here ever since, working at this adorable little candy shop in the mall.”

Regina’s eyebrows shoot up. “You work in the mall? I do as well; I wonder how I’ve never seen you?”

“Gosh Regina, what’s got you so blind?”

That quiets Regina. It’s Emma. It’s always been Emma. “I, um…”

Tink gasps. “Did you find him? The one with the lion tattoo?”

“Possibly?”

“Oh my god, you have to tell me everything. Come on in, take a look at the apartment.”

Regina smiles. "No need," she says. "I'll take the room."

 

"Goddammit," Emma mutters as her computer shuts down for the umpteenth time. She sighs and goes into Henry's room. How did it end up that her 12-year-old son has a nicer computer than she did?

"Hey, kid," she says as she opens the door.

Henry jumps and closes a tab on his computer. "Hey, Ma, what's up?"

Emma frowns. "Mind if I use your computer for a bit of work stuff?"

"Um, yeah, let me just finish something up." He hits a few buttons before standing up. "It's all yours." He goes to the living room, presumably to play video games.

Emma shuts the door and sits down in front of the computer. What was her son doing that he had to close when she came in? If he was watching porn she swears she's gonna… well she isn't exactly sure. But it’ll be something bad. She opens the browser history, but the sly kid cleared all of it for the day. She frowns as she skims through the previous day's history.

Someone was looking at apartments. She clicks a few of the tabs, and they bring her to a login page.  Her blood runs cold when she reads the name at the top.

Regina Mills.

Regina was apartment hunting? Does she want to move out? Why hasn't she said anything?

The front door opens. "I'm back," Regina calls.

"Henry's room," Emma hollers back automatically. A minute later Henry's room door opens and Regina comes in.

"What are you doing in-" she breaks off when she sees the computer screen.

"When were you planning on telling me?"

Regina bites her lip. "Before you get angry, please let me explain," she begs. "I know Walsh is moving in soon and I just wanted to make some more room for him. I found an apartment only a few blocks away."

"That doesn't explain why you had to sneak onto my son’s computer and look at apartments behind my back."

"I just didn't want you to get upset."

"So what was your plan? Sneak out in the middle of the night? Obviously I would have found out eventually so I don't understand why you couldn't just be honest about it!"

Regina bows her head. "I'm sorry, Emma. I was planning on telling you as soon as I got home… I took the room. I’m leaving as soon as I’ve finished packing.”

Emma’s quiet for a moment. Then, "Then why don't you start now? Don't let me stand in your way." She turns back to the screen.

"Emma..."

Emma doesn't answer.

Regina sighs and goes across the hall to the bedroom to start packing her small amount of clothes.

She’ll be moving out tomorrow morning. She’ll be leaving behind everything she knew in this world, everything that Emma had given her.

“Someday I’ll make it up to you. I’ll return every penny you’ve ever spent for me. I swear I will.”

Regina sighs. She can’t leave owing a debt to Emma. So she grabs her purse and hops on a train to the bank.

“Hello,” she greets the teller. “I need to make a withdrawal.”

 

The next morning, Regina wakes up on the floor beside the couch as she often does. She sighs and stands up to stretch out the knots in her back. As much as she’s going to miss this apartment, it’ll be nice to at least have a bed again.

All of her things ended up fitting neatly in two large cardboard boxes, which are sitting in the kitchen. She picks up the outfit she laid out for herself on the kitchen counter and goes into the bathroom to change and put on her makeup.

When she comes out, Emma’s standing outside, waiting to use the bathroom.

“Morning,” Regina says softly. She waits for Emma to meet her eye. She doesn’t.

“Hi.”

Regina bites her lip. "I'm leaving now."

"Okay."

"I... hope you'll come over sometime. I'll leave my address on the whiteboard."

"Okay."

"I'll just say goodbye to Henry and be on my way."

"Okay."

Regina sighs. "I'm glad we're being mature about this," she mutters, choosing to ignore the hypocritical nature of her statement. "Goodbye," she says in a normal voice.

"Bye."

Regina goes out into the living room, where Henry was sitting and playing his Xbox. "What's with the boxes?" he asks, pausing his game and gesturing to the boxes in the kitchen.

Regina sits down on the couch beside him. "They contain all of my things. I'm moving out."

"What?" he exclaims. "You can't do that!"

"Walsh is going to be moving in soon. There's not enough room for me. My new apartment is just a few blocks away; you can visit any time. I'm sure my new roommate would love to meet you."

Henry is silent, mouth hanging just slightly open in unspoken pleading.

"I'm going to write my address on the whiteboard, okay? Come over sometime. Please."

Henry throws his arms around her and squeezes tightly. "I kind of thought of you as my other mom, you know," he says into her shoulder. "I'm gonna miss having you here."

Regina smiles sadly as she rubs his back. "I'm going to miss being here too."

Finally, she stands up and walks to the whiteboard attached to the refrigerator. She writes her address in small handwriting in the upper right corner of the board with the dry erase marker before picking up her boxes and going to the door.

Her hand is on the doorknob when she remembers the apartment keys still in her pocket. Slowly, she takes them out and drops them on the kitchen counter, right beside the envelope with Emma’s name on it that she set there the previous night.

Regina takes one last look around the apartment. She murmurs a soft goodbye before walking out the door and closing it gently behind her.

 

After Walsh goes off to work – seriously, who the hell works on a Saturday? – and Henry goes into his room to text Paige, Emma walks out to the kitchen to make herself breakfast. That’s when she sees the envelope.

Frowning, she picks it up. It’s thick and heavy, and has her name written on the front of it in familiar handwriting. She carefully opens the envelope and pulls out first the white piece of letter paper. Regina filled the entire sheet, of course.

Emma,

I know you’re upset with me for leaving. And I promise you I didn’t want to go. I just felt that there wasn’t enough room for me in your apartment with Henry growing up and Walsh moving in. I’m so glad that I met you, and that I was able to stay this long. These three months have been the best of my life. I’m going to miss living with you. I’m going to miss making breakfast each morning, and you dropping me off at the train station, and going to Granny’s and Henry’s play practices and anywhere else you take me. Every day that I lived with you was an adventure.

Emma wipes at her eyes, and her fingers come back wet. “Get it together, Swan,” she grumbles. “She only moved a few blocks.”

I’ve met my new roommate. You’ll never believe this; she’s an old friend of mine! I knew her when I was young. I didn’t know she was here. I’m sure you’d love her. I do hope you’ll come visit me. Henry promised he would, but it won’t be the same without you. I left my address for you on the whiteboard. I hope you won’t erase it just to spite me. You know my phone number if you’d like to call. Oh, and the envelope. Do you remember about two months ago, when I promised you that someday I’d pay back everything I owed you? That’s what I’m doing. I was up late last night doing the math. It should all be there. $1647.39. I always pay back my debts. I’ll see you soon, I hope.

Always Yours,

Emma wipes her eyes with the heel of her hand and picks up the envelope. It’s filled with twenty dollar bills. She almost laughs.

The keys are sitting on the counter. Regina’s apartment keys. The final reminder that this is no longer her home.

Emma sighs and pockets the keys. Then she goes up to the refrigerator, looking at the magnetic whiteboard. There is indeed an address written in small handwriting in one corner. She very nearly does erase it, just to spite Regina for leaving her, but she can’t bring herself to do it.

She picks up the letter, reading through it one more time before folding it back into the envelope and sitting down at the counter with her head in her hands.

Chapter Text

Regina’s just unpacking her things in her new room when someone knocks on the door.

“I’ve got it,” Tink calls from the living room. Regina hears a muffled conversation, and then Tink is knocking on her open bedroom door. “Door for you.” She grins.

Regina’s first thought is Emma Emma Emma as she goes to the door, but it’s not the blonde who stands in the doorway.

“Hey,” Henry says with a bright smile.

Regina lets out a soft laugh. “When I said come visit me I didn’t mean an hour after I left,” she says with a smile. “Come on, I’m just getting unpacked.” She puts her arm around his shoulders and guides him down the hall to the bedrooms. “This one’s mine,” she says, going into the one on the left.

Henry sits down on the bed, content to watch Regina bustle around the room unpacking things for a while before he starts asking questions, as all kids do. “What’s your roommate’s name?”

“Nina.”

“How did you find this place?”

“On the internet.”

“Are you ever gonna come back home?”

Regina stops in her tracks. “I… I don’t know, Henry. That all depends on your mother.”

“She misses you,” he says quietly. “I mean, I know you just left, but she misses you. I saw her before I left. She was crying.”

Regina doesn’t say anything. She gently touches a fingertip to her lips, trying to remember how Emma’s felt pressed against them, but the memory is growing more distant every day.

Her voice is small when she finally speaks. “You can tell her I miss her too.”

Henry stands up. “I have to go to rehearsal. I just wanted to come see your new place before I went. Can I… can I come over again?”

Regina smiles and rests her hands on his shoulder. She bends so that she’s on eye level with him. “You can come over whenever you like.”

Henry grins and pulls her the rest of the way into a tight hug. “I love you,” he whispers so quietly, Regina isn’t sure he even said it. But then he says it again in a clear voice and there’s no doubt in her mind that he means it.

And when she says it back she knows she means it too.

 

Regina goes into work after Henry leaves, a bit frustrated that she wasn’t able to get the day off. At least she’s managed to get some more reasonable hours; she works most days from 10:00-4:00 now.

“Morning,” Killian greets her. “How was the move?”

Regina shrugs. “Simple. I don’t have much stuff.”

“Does Emma miss you yet?” He winks.

Regina makes a face at him in reply, clipping on her nametag and heading out to the floor. She’s become rather acquainted with her coworkers over the past two months; Kathryn Nolan in particular has become a good friend of hers.

“Morning, Regina,” Kathryn greets her cheerfully.

Regina smiles. “Hello, Kathryn. How are you?”

“I’m good! How are things with Emma?” Kathryn’s voice drops to a low whisper at the mention of Emma.

Regina sighs. “I moved out this morning.”

Kathryn’s face is the picture of sympathy as she rests her hand on Regina’s shoulder. “Don’t give up on her, sweetheart. She’s got some shit to figure out, but she’s a good one.”

Regina nods. “She really is,” she says more to herself than to Kathryn. She clears her throat. “I’m going to go organize the shoes.” She hurries over to the many shelves of shoes and begins sorting through the mixed up sizes and colors, a frustrating result of customers too lazy to put them back where they belong.

“Who asked you to do that?” Killian asks behind her.

Regina jumps, pressing a hand to her heart. “No one,” she says as she turns to face him. “I saw they were messed up so I came to fix them. I’m sorry, should I have let someone else do it?”

Killian smiles thoughtfully. “No, you’re fine. Listen, Regina, I need to ask you something.”

Regina’s brow furrows. She nods for him to continue.

Killian’s voice is low as he speaks. “I’ve been offered a really nice job in Brooklyn, and I’m gonna take it.”

“That’s spectacular, congratulations!”

Killian grins. “Thanks. But corporate wants me to choose someone to replace me when I leave. I think you’ve got what it takes, Mills.”

Regina’s mouth falls open. “Me?”

“How would you like to be the new manager, starting Monday?”

“I-I’d love that!”

“Fantastic! I’ll let them know.” Killian’s grin widens. “You’re gonna be great. Oh, and don’t tell anyone just yet. Don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Speechless, Regina watches him go. Manager, she thinks to herself. I’m moving up in the world.

She goes through the entire morning with a smile on her face, right up until Killian lets her go for her lunch break and Emma doesn’t come to meet her.

Regina goes down to the food court alone. She sits down at the table where they always sit with her salad and tries her best to ignore the empty seat across from her where there should be a smiling woman. No plate of fries for Regina to steal from, and no tongue stuck out at her when she does.

“You eat your rabbit food and leave my fries alone,” Emma would say, throwing one at Regina’s nose and acting offended when Regina eats it with a wink.

Regina glances down at her salad, suddenly finding her appetite gone with her good mood. She should call Emma when she gets home. She should apologize.

But that thought dissipates when she gets back up to the store and they get one of the biggest rushes Kathryn says they’ve had all year.

“Regina!” Kathryn shouts from across the clearance rack, where size-two women are tearing apart the meticulous organization that Aurora, the college girl that works with them, spent so much of her time forming. “I need you over here!”

Regina weaves her way through the tightly-packed bodies to her friend. “This is insane,” she pants.

“It is,” Kathryn agrees. But then, her face morphs into an almost cat-like grin. “But just think of all the tips we’re going to get.”

It’s that thought that gets them through the rush alive, and when Regina gets off at four o’clock, she’s weary and exhausted, and can’t wait to get home. She practically collapses on her bed the second she walks through the door. However, she forces herself to get up and honor the promise she made to herself all those hours ago at lunch.

And finally, after an entire day of preparing herself, she steels her nerves and dials the phone.

 

Emma pulls out her phone, glancing at the caller ID. The name on the screen makes her blood run cold. She can’t do it – she can’t talk to Regina. Not when she’s not sure if she loves her or hates her or misses her or needs her. She lets it go to voicemail and deletes the message before she can break down and listen to it.

Henry comes into her room then. “Ma?” he says as she looks up. “Can I… can we visit Regina tomorrow?”

Emma sighs. “I think it’s best if we give her some space for a while. She needs time to move.”

“She misses you. I know she does. She wants you to come see her.”

“How do you know that?”

Henry sighs. “Because she loves you.”

“Henry, not this again.” Emma tries to leave the room, but Henry catches her arm.

“I want to see her.”

Emma leans close to his face so he can hear her words very clearly. “Tough. Now go wash up; it’s almost dinner time.”

Henry glares at her. “I wish Regina was my mom and not you.”

And then he’s gone.

 

Regina sighs and puts down the phone. No answer. She tries to believe that Emma’s busy and can’t pick up the phone, but she knows she’s just grasping at straws. Emma’s ignoring her call.

She puts her phone away and turns to Tink, who’s sitting on the couch behind her. “No answer.”

“She’ll come ‘round. Now come on, sit down. I want to hear all about the man with the lion tattoo.”

Regina smiles tightly and sits beside Tink. “Well here’s the thing. He’s not a man.”

Tink furrows her brow. “What do you mean?”

“It’s a woman. She’s got a lion tattoo.”

“No.” Tink shakes her head. “I saw him very clearly, Regina. You’re looking for a man.”

“Are you sure? Because I… I was kind of hoping…” Regina can feel her heart shattering in her chest. If Emma isn’t her soulmate… then there’s no guarantee that she’ll ever come back. There’s no certainty for Regina to cling to. It’s utterly and purely up to chance.

Tink leans over and takes Regina’s hands, closing her eyes. “I can show you the man you’re looking for.”

Regina lets her eyes fall shut and images overtake her vision.

“What do you see, Regina?”

“There’s a… a man sitting at a desk… I can’t see his face; it’s covered by his hands. But I… I see the tattoo on his arm. A boy, on the floor, he’s maybe ten or eleven. Wait… that boy looks familiar… the man, he’s looking up now…” Regina watches as the man raises his head, and her heart constricts when she sees his face. She can’t breathe. She feels like she’s drowning, like she’s back in that bedroom again with no control over what happens to her, and as she whispers that word, she feels like she might throw it up with her lunch. “Robin.”

Tink releases her hands and looks at her curiously. “You’ve met him already?”

Regina wraps her arms around herself. “It can’t be him,” she whispers. “No. I can’t be with him.”

“Why not? What happened?”

“He…” The words won’t come. There aren’t any that can describe the horror of that day. Regina shudders at the memory of Robin’s hands on her, touching her, squeezing her, holding her in some sick parody of the way Emma used to hold her. “No. I refuse to believe that that man is my destiny.”

“But he is, Regina. Whatever he did to you, you need to put it behind you because that man there is going to make you happy.”

Regina narrows her eyes. “There’s only one person that can make me happy. And she’s busy being happy with someone else.”

Tink grabs one of Regina’s hands with both of hers. “If you don’t go to him you’re not only ruining your own life, but his, too.” She pauses. “And mine.”

“How in the hell am I ruining your life?”

“Because I put everything on the line to find that man for you. If Blue finds out I stole that dust from her… I could lose my wings!”

Regina pushes her lips into a snarl. “Well, that’s hardly my fault, is it?”

Tink narrows her eyes. “I don’t know why I ever helped you. They were right to exile you. You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting.”

“Is that so?” Regina leans forward so her face is just inches away from Tink’s. Her voice is a low growl, and she speaks slowly and clearly. “Then why are you still here?”

Tink glares at her. “You know Regina, I really, really hate you right now. But I still want you to find your happy ending. I suppose that’s why I can go home and you can’t.” And then she’s gone, in a cloud of shimmering dust. She must have gone back, Regina thinks. Back to the kingdom.

Her heart wrenches, just like it does every time she thinks about the Enchanted Forest. She hated it there. It was a prison. But it was the only home she’d ever known.

Until Emma.

Regina sighs. Her home isn’t an apartment or a castle or a cottage on the edge of the woods. It’s a person. And that person is Emma. I can’t let her go. Not like this. And so, with a newfound passion churning in her heart, Regina snatches her phone from the counter and pulls on her shoes to walk down to Emma’s apartment and bang on her door until she finally listens.

Just as she’s about to leave, someone knocks on the door. Frowning, Regina opens it. “Henry?”

Chapter Text

Henry is sniffling, and he wipes at his eyes. “Ma and I had a fight,” he says quietly. “And I ran out and I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Oh my god, Henry, come here.” Regina pulls him into her arms, holding him close to her as he squeezes her waist. “Come inside, I’ll make you some cocoa.” Regina ushers him into the kitchen and starts the cocoa. She glances at her phone on the counter. She should call Emma, tell her that Henry’s here.

She doesn’t.

Instead, she pours the cocoa into a mug and tops it off with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. “So… what were you two fighting about?”

Henry sighs and sips his cocoa. “She said she wouldn’t come visit you. So I… I sort of told her I wishes you were my mom instead of her and stormed out.” Henry’s ears go pink in embarrassment.

“Oh, Henry…” Regina bites her lip. She can’t do this to Emma. The woman is probably worried sick; that or crying her eyes out or both. She needs to call.

The phone rings just as Regina’s about to pick it up, and Emma’s name flashes on the screen.

“Emma?” Regina answers tentatively.

“Regina. I… is Henry there? He sort of ran out earlier and I thought… is he there?”

Regina glances behind her at the boy sitting at the counter, pleading with his eyes for her not to turn him in. “Yes. He just got here. I can take him home, if you wish.”

“No. No, It’s fine.” Emma pauses, and Regina can practically feel the uncertainty she hates to associate with Emma in the silence. “He can stay there if he wants. And if you want him to, of course. I’ll just pick him up before his play practice.”

Regina nods, despite knowing that Emma can’t see her. “Of course he can stay. I’ve missed him already.”

“Yeah. He’s an easy kid to miss.”

“I missed you on my lunch break today. I didn’t have any fries to steal.”

“Regina, I…” Emma sighs on the other end. “I can’t do this. I’ll pick Henry up in an hour.” The line goes dead before Regina can reply.

Regina sighs. She turns to Henry. “Your mother says you can stay for an hour until your rehearsal.”

Henry tilts his head. “What did she say to you? You looked sad.”

Regina bites her lip. “Nothing. Come on, let’s watch some TV.”

“Where’s your roommate?”

“She… she had an emergency. Had to go home immediately. So I’m stuck here on my own.” Regina smiles tightly. “You can put anything on. I’m just going to start some pasta for dinner.”

Henry nods and goes to sit on the couch, turning on the TV as Regina cooks pasta for two (even if she wishes it were for three). Scooping the pasta onto two plates, she moves to sit beside Henry on the couch and frowns at the TV. “What is this?”

He turns to her, eyes wide. “It’s Iron Man 2,” he says, obviously shocked she doesn’t know. “He’s like the coolest superhero ever.”

Regina nods slowly. “Of course.”

They watch the movie in companionable silence until there’s a knock at the door. Regina braces herself for the inevitable awkwardness to come as she goes to answer it. “Emma,” she says with a smile.

Emma shifts her weight from side to side. “Hey.” She looks past Regina, seeing Henry on the couch. “Kid, let’s go,” she calls shortly. “And don’t think you’re off the hook for earlier just because I let you stay.”

Henry looks down at his feet, standing up and dragging himself over to the door. He turns to Regina. “Thanks for dinner,” he mumbles.

Emma raises her eyebrows. “You fed him?”

“Just a bit of pasta.”

“Oh. Well. Thank you.” Emma turns to go, a hand on Henry’s shoulder.

“Emma,” Regina calls, but she’s met only with the door in her face.

With a sigh, she retreats back into the apartment and collapses on the couch. She really messed up this time; destroyed one of the most beautiful things she’s ever had.

And now she’s got to pick up the pieces.

 

“Ma?” Henry asks hesitantly from the passenger seat.

“Yeah?”

“Why are you mad at Regina?”

Emma’s fingers tighten around the steering wheel, turning her knuckles white. “I’m not,” she lies through clenched teeth.

Henry raises his eyebrows skeptically. “Ma, for someone who can always tell when someone’s lying, you’re pretty bad at it.”

Emma sighs. “Okay, yeah, I’m a little mad. She left, kid. I don’t like when people leave. It’s that simple.” It’s really not that simple, but she doesn’t need to be telling her twelve-year-old kid about all the bullshit going on.

She pulls up in front of the school and pauses. “Am I coming to this one?”

Henry shakes his head. “Our dress rehearsal is next week though and Miss Blanchard says our parents should come.”

“Yessir.” Emma mockingly salutes him as he gets out of the car, grinning despite herself when she sees Paige run up beside him. She’s glad to see that Henry’s life is going in a direction he can be happy about.

When she gets home, Walsh is on the couch. He grins when he sees her. “Hey, babe.”

Emma smiles tightly. “Hey.”

“You get Henry to his practice?”

“Yep.”

Walsh stands up and stretches with a loud groan. “What’s for dinner?”

“I don’t know; make something. I’m not your fucking maid.”

“What’s up with you?”

“Nothing. Just tired.” Emma pushes past him and heads toward the bedroom. She shuts and locks the door before her fiancé can follow her and sits on the bed with her head in her hands.

She fucked up bigtime.

She never should have said yes to Walsh; not when she loved someone else. Dammit, Regina is the one she wants. Not this douchebag. But Regina made her choice – she chose to leave.

She didn’t leave until you said yes to Walsh, a niggling voice at the back of her head says.

“Well I didn’t say yes until she decided to go out with that bitch,” Emma mutters out loud. She supposes it goes back to day they met. She saw Regina’s face and it was just…

It wasn’t like fireworks, it wasn’t like the last piece of the puzzle, but it was definitely something. It was something uniquely Regina and Emma finds herself now craving that feeling again – absolutely parched with a thirst that can only be quenched by Regina.

But that doesn’t change the fact that she left. Of all the people in Emma’s life that have left – her parents, her foster families, Neal… she thought Regina would be the one to stay. But obviously Emma can’t trust even her anymore.

“Em?” Walsh asks through the door, gently knocking. “Are you okay? You’re acting weird.”

Emma doesn’t reply. She looks down to her left hand, at the ring glittering there. She doesn’t want this. She doesn’t want him. She doesn’t want to be some housewife, starting with giving up her friends and the next thing you know she’s quitting her job and catering to his every need. Slowly, she slides the ring off of her finger and clutches it in her fist.

“Em?”

Emma stands up and opens the door. She presses the ring into Walsh’s hand, giving him a look that says everything she can’t.

“What’s this?” Walsh asks, a note of panic building in his voice.

Emma’s voice breaks with even just the two words she says next. “I’m sorry.”

 

It’s not until a week later that Emma drops Henry off at Regina’s apartment again – this time to spend the night. Regina smiles as he comes inside, but her grin quickly fades as she looks up to face his mother. “Emma.”

“What time should I pick him up tomorrow?”

“Please don’t do this.”

“Do what? I’m just dropping off my kid.”

Regina sighs, unsure of what to say next. I love you. “Emma…” I’ve loved you since the first day I met you. “Nine o’clock.”

“Got it.” Emma turns and walks off before Regina can get another word in.

“Regina?” Henry calls from the living room. “I brought a movie.” He holds up a DVD, the cover of which reads, The Avengers.

Regina plasters on a smile and goes to sit beside him on the couch. “I’m glad your mother let you come over here again.”

He grins up at her. “Me too.”

“Do you want popcorn with the movie?”

“Yeah!”

Regina goes into the kitchen and starts the popcorn while Henry sets up the movie on the DVD player Tink left behind. She brings the bowl back to the couch and Henry hits play; the both of them watching in companionable silence for the first half of the movie.

“Regina?” Henry murmurs during a quiet part.

“Hm?”

He turns to face her. “How come you look so sad when you talk to my mom?”

Regina sighs. “Your mother is angry with me. It’s enough to make anyone feel sad.”

“Why did you move out?”

“Walsh is going to be living with you soon, and he made it perfectly clear how he feels about me. Besides, there wouldn’t be room for me with him there.”

Henry turns his gaze back to the screen, but Regina can tell he’s not really watching anymore. He’s got his thinking face on. “She broke up with him,” he says almost inaudibly. “The day I ran away. He moved out.”

Regina’s eyes widen. “Why did she do that?”

“She wasn’t happy with him.” He meets her eyes again. “She wishes you hadn’t left. She told me she misses you a lot.”

Regina sucks her bottom lip between her teeth and bites down hard to stop the tears forming in her eyes. “Watch your movie, dear.”

“She loves you.”

“Henry-”

“She does,” Henry insists. “It’s obvious. And I know you love her too, so why don’t you guys just be together?”

Regina moves to clasp his hand in hers. “It’s not that simple, Henry.”

“Yes it is. What did it feel like when you guys kissed at the cabin?”

“You knew about that?”

Henry arches an eyebrow. “Come on. I’m not an idiot. What did it feel like?”

Regina fidgets with her fingers in her lap. “It felt… like we were the only two people in the whole world. Like nothing else mattered but being there with her.”

Henry grins. “It could feel that way all the time. You just have to tell her how you feel.”

“When did you become so wise?” Regina smirks and leans over to touch her forehead to his, just enough to make him grin. “I’ll think about it. Promise.”

Henry smiles, thankfully dropping the subject. “Hey, the last dress rehearsal of my play is next week and Miss Blanchard said there’s a part where parents can come and watch as a preview. Do you wanna come?”

Regina furrows her brow. “Won’t your mother be taking you?”

“She has some work thing that day, I don’t know. She’s just gonna drop me off.”

“I suppose I could come.” Regina smiles, heart soaring at the prospect that Henry wants her there. He chose her. “So, who is this again?”

Henry rolls his eyes. “That’s Captain America. Haven’t you been paying attention at all?”

“I’ve been mostly focused on the Black Widow,” she replies with a smirk.

“I so did not need to know that.”

“What? She’s a very strong character. And it’s very interesting to watch her change in demeanor between when she’s fighting someone and when she’s just talking to one of the other characters. Not to mention her obvious love for Clint and how she fights against it every moment.” Like someone else I know, a voice whispers in the back of her mind.

Henry raises his eyebrows. “You have been paying attention.”

Regina grins and musses his hair. “I told you I have been.”

There’s barely a break between when the movie ends and when Henry puts in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Regina smiles affectionately as he tries to educate her on all the characters’ intricate backstories. The explanation must have worn him out, for when Regina glances over about halfway through the movie, he’s fast asleep on the couch.

Would it be so bad? she thinks. Having him for a son? Of course it wouldn’t be. The only thing would be dealing with Emma’s constant uncertainty. She sighs and curls up on her end of the couch, about to fall asleep herself. She falls asleep thinking against her will about all the things she loves about Emma.

All the wrong things that seem so right.

Chapter Text

Emma looks herself up and down in the mirror, making sure she’s presentable enough to not have her son’s teacher think her suddenly unfit for parenting. Ever since her breakup with Walsh, she’s been admittedly a little bit of a mess, internally battling herself about Regina.

None of this would have happened if Emma never went outside to meet her. So why did she? Something pulled her to Regina; something she couldn’t describe. She still can’t describe it really.

“Ma?” Henry calls from the living room. “Are you ready yet?”

“Coming,” Emma hollers back. She straightens her jacket and leaves her room. “Let’s hit it,” she says, grabbing her keys from the kitchen counter on their way out.

“You can only come in for part of it,” Henry says solemnly. “You have to stay out here for the rest of the time.”

Emma nods. “Got it.” He turns to go, but she stops him. “Forgot your costume, Charming.”

Henry’s ears go red as he accepts the costume bag from his mother. “Thanks.”

“Tell Paige I say ‘hey’,” she calls after him as he goes into the auditorium, smirking at the way he turns and sticks his tongue out at her.

Emma shoves her hands in her pockets and scans the area she’s standing in for someone, anyone she recognizes –then her eyes focus in on someone. Fucking Robin. She forgot his son was in the play as well. Then she sees who he’s talking to. It’s only from the back, but there’s no mistaking that hair, the uncomfortable way she clutches one arm behind her back with her fingernails digging into her wrist.

Emma strides over and stands beside Regina. “Hey,” she barks at Robin. “I thought you were gonna leave her alone. Do we have to get a fucking restraining order?”

Robin raises his hands in mock surrender and backs up a few steps with a smirk that makes Emma think he’s not sorry at all. “My deepest apologies, m’lady.” Then he’s gone.

Regina turns to Emma. “Henry said you wouldn’t be here.”

“He never told me he invited you. The little shit set a parent trap. Too bad for him, I’m not falling for it.” Emma turns to go, but Regina catches her wrist.

“Emma, please. Talk to me. I can’t stand you being angry at me and not knowing why.”

That makes Emma stop. She turns around and raises her eyebrows. “Seriously? You have no idea why I’m pissed.” She lets out a bitter laugh. “No wonder you think you’re innocent.”

Regina’s face crinkles into an expression of sorrow. “Please. Tell me what I’ve done to make you hate me.”

“You left,” Emma snarls, more harshly than she intended. “Just like everyone else.”

“I thought it was what you wanted.”

“I told you it wasn’t!”

Regina turns her gaze to the floor. “I didn’t believe you,” she murmurs.

Emma frowns. “Why not? Why would I lie about that?”

“People have lied to me before. I’m not used to being wanted.”

“Regina…” For a moment Emma forgets she’s angry, and she steps forward and takes both of Regina’s hands in hers. “I thought you might be the one to stay. And when you didn’t… it just – it fucking hurt.”

Regina meets Emma’s gaze, and she just looks so young in that moment, like a teenager who’s just being forced to live on her own, so vulnerable and utterly afraid. “I thought you might be the one to want me to stay. But when Walsh moved in I thought you had gotten sick of me. So I left before you could ask me to.”

Emma squeezes her hands. “I never wanted you to.”

“I know. Now.”

“I broke up with Walsh.” It’s not what she meant to say – she’s not even sure what she meant to say – but it’s what she wants Regina to know.

“Why?”

“He’s not the one I want.”

Emma can see her own wanting reflected plainly in Regina’s eyes. Who knows what would have happened next if Mary Margaret didn’t come out of the auditorium at that moment and call everyone in to watch the preview of the play.

“Talk later?”

Regina nods. “Later.”

 

It’s not until she gets home that Regina receives a call from Emma. “Henry went to Paige’s house for a bit. Can… can we talk?” Emma asks.

Regina smiles, unable to contain the pure and utter joy rushing through her at the sound of Emma’s voice, not pushing her away for the first time since she left. “Why don’t you come over?”

“I’ll be over in a few.”

And, true to her word, Emma knocks on the door just three minutes later. “Hey.”

“Hey.”

Emma comes inside and sits down on the couch. “I realize I’ve never actually been inside here before.”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Didn’t you say something about a roommate?”

“Family emergency,” Regina says, giving Emma the same story she gave Henry. “She didn’t tell me the details, but she won’t be back for a while.”

Emma nods. “I see.”

“So…” Regina sits down beside Emma. “You wanted to talk?”

Emma swallows hard and takes one of Regina’s hands in both of hers. Her thumb absently strokes the back of Regina’s hand as she speaks. “This is gonna sound really eighth grade,” she chuckles. “Um. I like you. Kind of a lot.”

Regina freezes. She’s always had a slight inkling that Emma might return her feelings, but hearing her say it out loud is still a huge shock. She doesn’t say anything.

“Is… that okay?”

“Yes. Yes, that’s very okay.” Regina feels herself smiling. “I… I like you too.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Emma shifts in her seat. “So… do you maybe wanna… do something?”

Regina smirks. “Like a date?”

“Yeah. Like a date.”

“I think I’d like that. What did you have in mind?”

“I… I don’t know. Um. I’ll figure something out. Promise.”

Regina grins. “I’ll count on it.”

“Well.” Emma glances down at their still-joined hands, slowly pulling hers away and wiping them on her jeans. “Now that that’s settled.”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know, what do you do next with this sort of thing?”

Regina chuckles and leans forward. “I believe we seal the deal,” she murmurs, face just inches away from Emma’s. “With a kiss.” And then she closes the distance, fusing their lips together in a soft, chaste kiss. It only lasts a few seconds before she pulls away; it’s nothing like their heated make-out in Emma’s cabin, but it’s pretty nice. She realizes only after she’s pulled away that her wings have moved to wrap themselves around Emma, encasing her in their soft cocoon. She quickly pulls them away and folds them neatly against her back.

Emma’s cheeks are bright red, and she’s no doubt thinking the same thing as Regina. “That was nice.”

“Yes, it was.”

Emma leans forward for another kiss, but Regina stops her by pressing a finger to Emma’s lips. “Take me out first,” she says teasingly. “Maybe I’ll let you kiss me goodnight.”

“What?” Emma whines.

“Well, if we’re doing this the eighth grade way, those are the rules.”

Emma scoffs. “Fine. Then I’m not letting you see my boobs until the third date.” Then she blushes, realizing what she’s said. “I mean, if there is one,” she adds hurriedly.

Regina grins. “Then I have something to look forward to,” she purrs.

“I, um, I should go.”

“So soon?”

Emma smiles at the floor. “I’ve got a date to plan, remember?”

“Ah, yes, of course.” Regina follows Emma to the door, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe. “And Emma?” she calls as the blonde goes into the hallway.

“Hm?”

“No groping me in the theater.” Regina winks and shuts the door, taking more pleasure than she probably should at the way Emma stands there, flustered.

She’s missed teasing Emma. And now that she’s been forgiven, she’s got a lot of time to make up for.

 

“A date?” Henry exclaims when Emma tells him. “I knew it! I told you so, didn’t I?”

Emma rolls her eyes and musses his hair. “Yeah, kid, I guess you did. But don’t get too smug, okay? It’s just one date.”

“So you’re really not gonna get back together with Walsh?”

“Man, you really didn’t like that guy, did you?”

Henry shrugs. “He was kind of a dick,” he says casually.

“Henry!” Emma scolds. Then she breaks out into a grin. “You really couldn’t think of anything better?”

“Asshole?”

“Try fuckwaffle.”

Henry nods appreciatively. “I yield. That was pretty good.”

“Get your homework done, kid.” Emma musses his hair affectionately as he groans and turns to head down the hallway to his bedroom. “Hey,” she calls after him. “Phone.”

Henry rolls his eyes and slaps his cell phone into her hand before walking away. As if on cue, it vibrates in her hand. The screen lights up with a text message, and from her angle Emma can easily read the preview.

Paige: Had fun seeing you at rehearsal :) Are you free t…

Emma smirks. Sounds like Henry isn’t the only one who’s got it bad. She’s tempted to read the full message, but that would be an invasion of privacy. Also Henry has a lock on his phone and refuses to tell her the password.

There’s a knock at the apartment door, and when Emma answers it, Lacey is standing there. “Hey,” the Aussie says with a grin.

“What’s up, Lace?” Emma says, leaning against the doorframe.

“I hear you and Regina made up.”

“How the hell did you hear that? It’s been like four hours!”

Lacey shrugs. “Mary Margaret saw you guys, and she texted me.”

“What a reliable source,” Emma drawls. She goes inside, and Lacey follows her to sit on one of the stools at the kitchen counter. Emma passes her a beer and opens one up for herself. “Yeah, we’re not fighting anymore.” She climbs up onto the stool beside Lacey. “Actually, we’re uh… we’re going on a date.”

Lacey chokes on her beer. “Seriously? Oh my god, I knew it. She’s been shooting you doe-eyes for months.”

“Seriously? Months?”

“Shit, I probably shouldn’t have said that. Me and my big mouth, eh?”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Emma says thoughtfully. Months? That’s a hell of a lot of time to be hung up on unrequited feelings – or, both of them were convinced it was unrequited anyway. “Just a bit of added pressure.” She laughs nervously.

“Where are you taking her?”

“I have no idea. I mean, I know she doesn’t like going out to really fancy places, but I also don’t wanna take her somewhere shitty, you know?”

Lacey thinks a moment. “Just make sure it’s special. You’ve both been waiting a long time for this; make it worth the wait.”

Emma smiles. “Yeah. I’ll try my best.”

“Well. I propose a toast. To Emma finally growing a pair.” She raises her bottle, and Emma toasts her with a playful scowl.

Henry comes out of his room, presumably to grab a study snack (and sneak a glance at his phone), tilting his head when he sees Lacey. “Hey.”

“Hey, Hen,” Lacey greets him with a smile. “What’s up?”

“Just homework.” He turns to Emma. “Are you going somewhere?”

“Nah, Lacey just stopped by to hang out a little bit. Although,” she adds, glancing at the digital clock on the oven. “You’ve gotta get to work soon, don’t you?”

Lacey shakes her head with a grin. “Nope. ‘M off tonight.” She shifts her gaze to Henry. “Hey, kid, why don’t you get back to your homework? I’ve got something I wanna talk to your mum about.”

Henry frowns, but nods and heads back to his room. Emma doesn’t even notice that he snatches his phone from the coffee table on the way.

“What’s up?” Emma asks, setting down her beer.

“Is… is that guy still bothering Regina?”

Emma slowly looks up to meet Lacey’s eye. “What do you know about that?”

“Not much,” Lacey replies carefully. “But that first day when she was here alone he came knocking. She called me to get rid of him and she told me he wanted to hurt her. She just looked so scared… what did he do to her?”

“She never told me that.” Emma bites her lip. “He attacked her. And he’s been showing up places; the store where she works, here, and his kid’s in the play with Henry. He was talking to her today and she looked super uncomfortable.”

Lacey digs in her purse on the counter for a moment before pulling out a small piece of cardstock. She slides it across the counter to Emma. “His name’s Robert Gold. He’s an amazing lawyer. He can help you out.”

Emma picks up the business card, studying it. “We can’t afford a lawyer.”

“He’ll do it for free.” At Emma’s confused expression, Lacey elaborates. “He owes me a favor.” She reaches over and clutches Emma’s hand. “I don’t want her to have to deal with this guy anymore. She deserves better than this; you know that.

Emma gulps. “Yeah. She does.”

Lacey grabs her purse and heads for the door. “I’m gonna go get some sleep. Please, think about it.”

“I will.”

Chapter Text

Kathryn practically shrieks when Regina tells her the news the next day. “Oh my god, I am so happy for you!” she gushes when she finally gets herself under control.

Regina can’t stop grinning. “I think I’m finally getting settled here. Putting down roots.”

“We have to go out for drinks to celebrate. Are you free after your shift?”

Regina thinks a moment. She was planning to call Emma, but maybe it’s too soon to do that – she still hasn’t even heard anything of their date. She smiles. “Drinks sound great.”

“Awesome!” Kathryn turns back to her task, and Regina heads over to make sure the registers are set up properly. Ever since she became manager, people have had a new respect for her, where before they saw her as the spoiled little princess run away from home. Now that she’s proven she means business, however, people actually listen to her.

She smooths nonexistent wrinkles out of her black dress as she checks the time on the clock hanging on the wall. Two minutes to opening.

“Regina?” someone behind her asks.

She turns, and behind her stands Aurora, their newest employee and an art major at the local community college. “Yes, how can I help you, Aurora?” Regina asks with a kind smile.

“I was just wondering… is this yours?” she holds up a small, leather-bound notebook.

“Oh, yes, I thought I had lost that!” Regina takes it from her. It is indeed hers; sometimes when she’s on break or has nothing to do she’ll sit and sketch dresses and shoes and handbags, daydreaming of models strutting down a catwalk in each one. She misplaced it last week, but it seems it fell into Aurora’s hands rather than being lost forever.

“I was just paging through it – trying to figure out whose it is – and… these drawings are really good.”

“Thank you.”

“Have you… have you ever thought about maybe going somewhere with that? You totally have the talent.”

Regina’s face flushes. “I hadn’t thought about it, no.”

Aurora smiles. “There are people in my fashion design class that can’t do things like that. You should definitely look into it.” She walks past Regina to the registers, leaving Regina standing there with notebook in hand.

“Um, Regina?” Kathryn says softly. “We were supposed to open two minutes ago.”

“Right. Of course.” Regina moves to the double doors. “Kathryn? Do you think I could ever make something of these?” She hands her friend the notebook.

Kathryn flips through the pages, stopping to look at a few. She grins and gives it back. “Definitely.”

Regina smiles and goes to the back to put her book in her employee locker. She spends half the morning just thinking, and by her lunch break she’s made a decision.

She catches Aurora before the girl can clock out. “Aurora,” she calls. “Why don’t you have lunch with me?”

Aurora raises her eyebrows, but nods. “Sure. What’s up?”

“I was thinking. About what you said.” They walk down to the food court together and sit down at Regina and Emma’s usual table (the thought of Emma finally sitting across from her again gives her joy like she’s never known before). “Does your school have any evening classes?”

 

By the time she gets home, Regina’s exhausted. She didn’t realize when she accepted the invitation that drinks with Kathryn included lots of dancing and lots of flirting – despite the fact that the very reason they were celebrating was because Regina was finally going out with Emma (and her new manager job, but what’s really more important to Kathryn? Emma, of course.).

She sends Emma a quick text apologizing for not calling after work like she planned before logging onto the website Aurora gave her for her college. There’s so many different classes, Regina muses as she scrolls through the options. She absently strokes the soft down feathers of the underside of her wings as she browses the classes. After about twenty minutes, she decides on Fashion Design 101 with a Professor Nolan. Might as well start with a solid foundation.

It takes nearly an hour to get her registered. She’s bounced from phone call to phone call, talking to countless people until finally one of them confirms her registration. He tells her the class starts in two weeks, and meets on Mondays at seven o’clock in the evening.

Regina grins as she hangs up the phone. She’s making her way in this world just fine, despite everything her mother told her after her exile was announced. She spreads her wings, reveling in the stretch as they unfold to their full span.

Her phone chimes on the table with a text from Emma.

I’ve got our date all planned out. How’s Friday work for you? Pick you up at 6?

Regina smiles as she types her reply. And just what are we going to be doing?

Can’t tell you that. It’s a surprise. ;)

You sneaky minx. Friday works.

Sweet!

Regina sets her phone down and puts it on silent for the night. This next week is going to be torturous waiting for Friday night to come, but hopefully work will keep her busy enough to not think about it too much.

 

Ruby grins when they walk into the diner the next night, a smirk on her face. “Table for three?”

Emma rolls her eyes. “Yeah.” She turns to Regina and Henry. “You guys sit down; I gotta talk to Ruby for a sec.”

Regina tilts her head curiously, but goes to the back booth with an arm around Henry’s shoulders.

“So, am I allowed to say ‘I told you so’ yet?” Ruby asks when they’re gone.

“Yeah,” Emma sighs. “You were right. We’re going out on Friday.”

“Wait, seriously? You broke up with Walsh?”

Emma twists her face at the memory. “Two weeks ago.”

“Wow, and you’ve already moved on.” Ruby quirks an eyebrow and rests a hand on her hip. “You must really like her.”

“Yeah,” Emma admits quietly, heat rising to her cheeks. “I really do.”

“Hey, speaking of cute girls, is your neighbor still single? What was her name – Lucy?”

Emma snorts. “Lacey? Yeah, I guess she’s your type.”

“You should definitely give her my number. Now go, get back to your girlfriend.” Ruby winks, gesturing with her head to the table where Regina’s watching Emma with an expectant look on her face while Henry’s engrossed with something on his phone.

Emma feels her ears go red at the g-word but – surprising herself more than anyone – doesn’t correct her as she goes to the table. “Hey.”

“What was that about?” Regina asks curiously.

“She wants me to set her up with Lacey.” Emma shakes her head with a grin. “You know, I can actually see it.”

Regina arches a perfectly-trimmed eyebrow. “Ruby and Lacey. I like it.”

“Yeah? Maybe I’ll have to orchestrate a meeting,” Emma laughs. “Split a milkshake?”

Henry makes a face. “Are you guys gonna drink your milkshake like those couples on TV?”

“Do you want us to?”

“Please don’t.”

“Looks like that’s what we’re gonna have to do then,” Emma says with a wink toward Regina.

Regina grins. “I suppose we will.”

Henry groans and drops his head into his hands. “Why do you two make it your mission to embarrass me?”

“It’s our job, kid.” Emma musses his hair. “Mine because I’m your mom, and Regina because she’s my-” she breaks off with a glance at Regina. “…friend.”

Regina nods slowly, offering a small smile.

Henry tilts his head. “I thought you guys were going on a date.”­­

“I…” Emma trails off.

Regina, thankfully, jumps in with a naturally eloquent response. “We are, dear. But until we figure out where we might be going together, we’re just going to stick with ‘friends’.”

Emma smiles gratefully. “Exactly. Now come on. Wash up before you eat.”

Henry rolls his eyes, but slides out of the booth and heads to the bathroom.

“Thanks for fielding that,” Emma says.

“You looked at a loss.”

“Yeah. I just… I don’t know what I’m supposed to tell him about us.” Emma sighs and rests her elbows on the table. “I mean, I like you a lot. And I really hope we’re going somewhere good. I just don’t wanna overwhelm him, you know? I just broke up with Walsh after all.” And maybe she won’t admit it even to herself, but she knows somewhere in the back of her mind she’s probably trying not to overwhelm herself either. She’s never been one who’s good at the whole “committed relationship” thing that other people seem so fond of.

Regina nods. She reaches across the table and takes Emma’s hand, offering a smile. “I like you a lot too, Emma. And I know we’re all going to be just fine.”

Emma smiles broadly, squeezing Regina’s hand.

“Ew, gross,” Henry says, having returned from the bathroom without either of them noticing. “Don’t be mushy in front of me.”

“Get used to it, kid,” Emma replies.

Dinner is comfortingly domestic, Regina snatching fries from Emma’s plate and the two of them romantically sharing their milkshake while Henry gags and hides in the world of his cell phone. Afterward, they go back to Emma’s apartment and Henry goes to his room to do his homework.

Emma opens a bottle of whiskey for the conversation they’re about to have. “Hey,” she says, handing Regina a tumbler. “Can I talk to you about something?”

Regina frowns. “Of course.” She sips the amber liquid, a look of pleasant surprise crossing her face before she turns her attention back to Emma.

“It’s… it’s about Robin.”

“Oh,” Regina says softly. She looks to the floor and her fingers tighten around her glass. “What about him?”

“He’s still bothering you. I saw him at Henry’s rehearsal. Regina, I know you say you’re fine, but we gotta do something about him.”

“Like what?”

Emma reaches into her pocket and pulls out the business card she’s been carrying every day since she got it. “Lacey gave it to me,” she explains as she slides it across the counter. “She says he’s a really good lawyer.”

Regina examines the card. “I – we can’t afford a lawyer, Emma.”

“She says he owes her. He’ll do it for free.”

“I…”

“Regina,” Emma murmurs, gripping Regina’s hand with a squeeze just tight enough to have presence. “We can’t just let this guy get away with what he did; what he’s been doing to you. It’s time for him to get what he deserves.”

Regina slowly meets Emma’s eyes. “You’re serious about this? You want to bring him to court?”

“Of course I’m serious. I always am when it comes to you.”

Regina sets the card down on the counter, her face contorted in thought. Finally, she looks up. “Okay,” she whispers, eyes wide and looking more innocent than Emma thinks she’s ever seen Regina.

“It’s not gonna be simple,” Emma murmurs, half to herself. “But I promise you, it’s the right thing to do. And I’m gonna be there for you the whole time.”

“Yes?”

Emma smiles and squeezes her hand. “Yeah. I’ve got you, Regina.” She lifts Regina’s hand and lightly, just barely brushes a kiss over the back of it. “I’ve got you.”

Chapter Text

Regina’s a nervous wreck by the time Emma knocks on her door the next morning. She called in last night to take a personal day from work, and they set up a meeting with Mr. Gold at her apartment for 9:00 this morning.

“Hey,” Emma greets her grimly. “Um, this is Mr. Gold.” She gestures to the man standing behind her. He’s definitely aged, his hair long and grey, and his teeth severely yellowed. He stands with an ornately decorated cane.

“Good morning, dearie,” Gold says in a thick accent.

“Come in.” Regina steps back into the apartment, Emma and Gold following her to the kitchen table. “Can I get you coffee? O-Or tea?” Her wings flutter nervously as she opens and closes cupboards, getting out all the things she needs to make the drinks.

“Tea would be lovely.” Gold eases himself into the chair, leaning his cane against the table. “Now. I’m going to need to know the exact nature of your problem. Miss Swan didn’t tell me much over the phone.”

Regina shoots Emma a grateful smile for not giving everything away all at once. She sets three cups of tea gently on the table, and sits down beside Emma. “There’s a man. Robin. He’s been… showing up wherever I am. My workplace, the grocery store; he even tried to find me in my place of residence at one point. And his son is in Emma’s son’s play. And when I’m at his rehearsals Robin finds me.”

Gold nods, taking notes in his legal pad. “A routine stalking case then.”

“It’s more than just that,” Emma interrupts, casting a pointed look at Regina. “Tell him what happened.”

Regina runs her top teeth over her bottom lip a few times while she thinks of how phrase her next words. “He attacked me. He forcibly removed my clothes and he tried to take advantage of me-” she breaks off with a choked sound. “He’s been stalking me since I escaped that day.”

Gold looks up from his pad to meet her eye. “You say you escaped?”

“Yes. But only after he took my clothes.”

“I see.” He scribbles something out and replaces it with something else. “It’s quite difficult to win an attempted rape trial, ladies. I hope you know that. However, combined with the stalking, I’d say we have a fair shot at this. I’ll rule it as sexual assault and obsessive stalking – that should give us a chance.” He speaks so casually, as though this were a discussion about the weather rather than a truly damaging, life-altering event in Regina’s life.

After Gold leaves, promising them that he’ll work extensively on their case, Emma sits Regina down on the couch and takes her hands. “You okay?”

“I think so.”

“He was kind of rude. But I really do think he’s gonna get what we need. He’s gonna make sure you’re safe from now on.”

Regina smiles weakly. “Thank you, Emma. And I know I’ve said it so many times, but you’ve just done so much for me.” She squeezes Emma’s hands, but the gesture doesn’t dispel any of her guilt. “What have I ever done for you?”

“Don’t say that,” Emma says. She brings Regina’s hands to rest in her lap, still keeping their fingers tightly intertwined. “You made me realize I was with a guy I didn’t love. You gave me the courage to leave. You’ve made me so insanely happy these past few months; so happy it actually hurt when you left. And you’ve taken such good care of my son.” Her voice cracks. “You’ve cared for him so well. And you, Regina… you fixed me when I didn’t even realize I was broken.”

The tears come unbidden, and Regina leans forward and rests her head in the crook of Emma’s neck and shoulder, finding the spot all too comfortable. “You aren’t broken.”

“No, I’m not. Not anymore.” Emma pulls her back to look her in the eye. “Not thanks to you.”

 

Over the next week, most of Regina’s free time is occupied with working with Gold and Emma on the trial. She barely even sees Henry – he’s busy with the play and studying for his semester tests and rarely leaves his room.

It’s Friday in the blink of an eye. Regina spends the whole day nervous as all hell, and by the time five o’clock rolls around, her wings are practically vibrating.

Emma texted her that morning telling her to wear something casual. Searching through her closet, Regina finds that she doesn’t own much in the way of casual. Most of her clothes are work clothes. Finally, she settles on simple red v-neck and her sole pair of figure-hugging jeans.

The doorbell rings just as she’s finishing the last sweep of mascara. She hurries to answer it, smiling broadly when she sees Emma standing in the hall. “Hey,” she says, unable to think of anything else.

Emma bends at the waist in a mock bow. “You look stunning as ever this evening, m’lady,” she replies sarcastically. Straightening, she looks Regina up and down. “But in all seriousness, you look really nice.”

Regina feels herself blushing. “So do you.” Emma’s dressed in her favorite red leather jacket, the one that Regina has grown to love more than she ever thought possible. “So, where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise.” Emma winks and takes her hand. “Come on.”

Regina follows her to the bug, and they drive in slightly awkward silence to a restaurant. But Regina realizes quickly – this isn’t just a random choice. “You picked this place on purpose.”

Emma smiles. “The place where we first met. I lent you my shoes, right over there, remember?” She points to a spot a few feet away with a small laugh. “Who could’ve guessed it would turn into this?”

They go inside and sit at their table. The waitress comes by almost immediately.

“Evening, ladies. My name is Mulan and I’ll be your server this evening. What can I get you to drink?”

“A bottle of Merlot and two glasses, please,” Emma says politely.

“All right, I’ll be right back with that.” Mulan returns about two minutes later with the drink, setting it neatly on the edge of the table. Then she wanders off again to give them time to choose what they want to eat.

Regina longs to reach over and still her aggressively beating wings, but it would look a bit strange for her to be stroking thin air. “So. How exactly do we do this?”

“I… I don’t really know. I mean, we already know each other pretty well.”

Regina tilts her head. “Not necessarily. I don’t know your favorite color. Your favorite band, whether or not you like olives.”

Emma grins. “Green, Guns N’ Roses, and no way in hell.”

“Purple, Adele, and yes, but only the green ones.”

“Adele?” Emma’s eyebrow quirks.

“She’s very empowering! And she’s got a nice voice.”

“She’s not a band though.”

Regina frowns. “She’s close enough.”

Emma opens her mouth to reply, but she’s interrupted by Mulan returning to take their orders.

“I’ll have the grilled salmon,” Regina says with a smile.

“Farmhouse burger, medium-rare, hold the mayo?”

Mulan leaves with the menus, and Regina eyes Emma with a smirk. “Only you would order a hamburger at a place like this.”

Emma feigns offense. “All right, Little Miss Upper Class, I didn’t realize this was a competition.” She lifts her wineglass, pinkie finger sticking out at a sharp angle, and takes a dainty sip. “Quite splendid, the way the flavors blend together in such a unique fashion, combining to form its own distinctive taste,” she says in an exaggerated accent.

Regina can’t hold in her laugh. “I’m not like that!”

“No, but you’re going to be if you don’t watch out,” Emma snickers. “Oh, eat fast by the way. We’ve got somewhere to be at 7:30.”

Checking the time on her phone, Regina frowns. “That’s in less than an hour.”

“Like I said, eat fast.”

“Where are we going?”

Emma smirks. “That’s for me to know, and for you to find out.”

Regina glares, but complies with Emma’s instruction. She’s finished with her dinner in record time; barely tasting a single bite. It’s only 6:48 when she sets her fork down on her empty plate.

Emma laughs. “You look like a kid on Christmas who had to eat breakfast before opening presents.”

“I don’t like not knowing things,” Regina replies simply.

“I hear you.” Emma hails Mulan for the check, leaving cash so that they can leave quicker. “Okay, so here’s the deal for this next thing. Henry’s coming along.”

“Why?”

“He, uh, he finally got a date with Paige. But her dad said it has to be chaperoned. And I figured, since we’ve already established we’re going to be doing this like eighth graders…”

Regina grins. “We’re double dating with your son and his girlfriend?” She bumps Emma with her shoulder as they walk to the car. “My, my, Miss Swan, you sure do know how to plan a classy date.”

Emma sticks her tongue out. “I’m pretty sure we’re seeing the new Spider-Man movie. I know it’s not exactly grown-up date material, but it’s perfect for a bunch of eighth graders. And hey, Emma Stone’s in it,” she muses as they get into the car and shut the doors.

“Who?”

“Remind me again why I like you?”

Regina leans into Emma from the passenger seat. “I could just show you,” she purrs softly in Emma’s ear, smiling in satisfaction at her date’s small shiver. She smiles teasingly before retreating back to her own space and speaking in a normal voice once again. “So, we’ve got to pick up Henry and Paige?”

“Dammit, woman.” Emma’s voice is slightly breathy. “I swear you’ll be the death of me.” She puts the car in drive, and they swing by the apartment to get Henry before going down to Paige’s house.

Regina smiles as Henry gets out to go to the front door. “He looks very handsome.”

Emma chuckles. “Lacey said he spent half an hour on his hair, and another ten minutes picking out an outfit.”

Henry gets back in the car, Paige behind him in a pale blue dress. “Hello,” she greets them politely.

Regina grins. “Hello, Paige. You look lovely.”

“Thank you.”

The drive is spent in awkward silence – Emma and Regina somehow resisting the urge to embarrass Henry, and Henry not wanting to talk to Paige in front of them.

Emma pays for all of their tickets, despite Regina’s protests. “All right, kiddos,” she says as they walk into the theater with two buckets of popcorn and four enormous sodas. “You can sit wherever you want. Regina and I are gonna sit in the back and have our own date.” She casts a wink at Regina, who flushes, luckily hidden by the darkness of the theater.

“Ew, Ma!” Henry exclaims. He and Paige take their snacks and choose a spot near the middle, while Emma and Regina head up to the very back row.

“You know what people do in the back row, don’t you?” Emma whispers as they sit down.

“Hm?”

“They make out. A lot.”

Regina quirks an eyebrow. “Do they now? Even the eighth graders?”

Especially the eighth graders.”

“Well then I suppose I’ll allow it.” She smirks, leaning in and feeling pale pink lips slowly brush against hers. As soon as the first contact is made, they both surge forward, hands anywhere and everywhere they can find purchase. The popcorn flies off of Emma’s lap and spills all over the ground but neither of them can bring themselves to care. All Regina can think about is that she’s kissing Emma Swan, actually kissing her in the back of a darkened movie theater with their son just a few rows in front of them.

That gives her pause.

When did she start thinking of Henry as her son? She supposes there wasn’t really an exact moment – it just happened. But she knows it’s true. Henry is her son. Maybe not the way he’s Emma’s son, but he’s her son all the same. The thought makes her smile; the two of them sharing a son. It almost makes her think of-

“Hey!” a voice hisses.

Regina jumps away from Emma and frantically fixes her hair and wipes away her smeared lipstick. Standing in front of her is a woman of maybe forty or fifty, wearing a stern glare and both hands firmly planted on her hips.

“Keep it to a minimum, ladies. We’re here to see a movie, not a porno.”

Regina’s face heats in embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” she mutters, latching onto the hand that snakes into hers and squeezing hard.

“Sorry,” Emma says softly when the woman is gone. “People don’t usually care when people make out back here. It’s sort of a given.”

Regina smiles. “We’ll have plenty of time to do that when we go back to my apartment.”

Emma raises both her eyebrows. “Cocky, are we? You’re not afraid I’m gonna sleep with you and never call you again?”

“You know, I know it sounds cheesy, but I’m not afraid of anything when I’m with you. It’s like I can just let things happen without worrying about the consequences.”

Emma clutches Regina’s hand with both of hers. “I can’t make you any promises, Regina. I just want you to know that. I can’t promise you I won’t hurt you; I can’t promise you I won’t wake up one day and freak out and run. But I can promise you I’ll always come back.”

“This is selfish of me… but I don’t think I ever want to be without you again. Whether it’s as friends or something more, I can’t lose you, Emma.” Regina stares into the green pools of Emma’s eyes that are somehow sparkling in the low light of the theater. She doesn’t say it, doesn’t say the three words that have been on her mind for so long now.

“Being selfless is overrated anyway,” Emma replies with a grin. She leans forward and brushes her lips briefly over Regina’s before turning to face the screen. “Now hush, the movie’s starting.”

But Regina’s not watching the movie. She’s watching Emma. I love you, she thinks. And maybe she can’t say it yet, but she’ll do everything she can to show it. But for now, she just focuses on tonight.

And really, it’s the perfect date.

Chapter Text

Emma takes a deep breath in the mirror, straightening her stiff gray jacket around her shoulders. She glances behind her to where Regina’s sitting on the bed with both her eyes and hands in her lap. “Hey,” she says softly, going to sit beside her and sliding an arm around her shoulders. “You okay?”

“Nervous.”

“Honestly, I’d be worried if you weren’t.” Emma presses a gentle kiss to Regina’s shoulder. “It’s gonna be fine. Gold’s gonna do all the talking – you just have to sit there and look gorgeous.”

Regina smiles weakly. “I am good at that,” she jokes, though Emma can tell her heart’s not in it.

“Yeah, you really are. He’ll be here to pick us up in an hour; you’d better get dressed.”

With another nod, Regina stands up and moves to the chair where she laid out her outfit the night before. After pulling on a slimming black dress and brushing on the final sweep of mascara, Regina stands up from the vanity with a small smile. “Ready.”

Lacey’s already in the living room when they come out of the bedroom, sitting down with Henry on the couch.

Henry launches himself into Regina’s arms before anyone can say anything. “I didn’t know Roland’s dad did that to you,” he whimpers. “I’m so sorry.”

Regina slowly reaches down and clutches the boy to her. “There was a reason we didn’t tell you, Henry. No boy your age should have to deal with that.”

“No one ever should have to deal with that!”

Emma rests her hand on Regina’s shoulder. “Couldn’t agree more, kid. But don’t worry. We’re gonna make sure the guy pays for it.”

There’s a knock at the door, and when Emma opens it, Gold is standing there in the hallway. “Miss Swan,” he says solemnly. “Shall we?”

“Mr. Gold,” Lacey calls from inside. She wears a stone-cold expression, something so foreign on her normally smiling face that even Emma’s scared of her. “Make him regret ever being born,” she says lowly, teeth clenched.

Gold’s face softens briefly as he takes in her face. “Don’t worry. I will.” He gestures broadly to the hallway behind him. “Shall we?”

Emma and Regina follow him to where his car is parked downstairs. He drives a black Mercedes – no surprise there. Emma sits in the back with Regina, clutching her hand tightly and allowing herself to be used as an anchor. She murmurs comforting words in Regina’s ear the entire drive to the courthouse.

Robin’s truck is already parked, and Gold pulls his car into a spot on the opposite side of the lot. “Just stick to your guns, ladies,” he tells them as he turns the car off. “No matter what happens, what anyone says, don’t waver on your position. And for the love of everything holy, don’t show weakness.”

“Let’s just get this done,” Emma says. She unbuckles her seatbelt and gets out of the car, immediately latching back onto Regina’s hand once they’re both out. “You okay?”

“No,” Regina says matter-of-factly. “But hopefully I will be.”

“I’ve got you, okay? I’ve got you.”

A small smile spreads across Regina’s face. “I’m glad I met you.”

Emma grins. “Me too.”

“If you’re quite finished?” Gold interrupts. “We’ve got a trial to attend.”

Emma shoots him an annoyed look, giving Regina’s hand a squeeze. They follow him inside. There’s a man in a pressed suit standing outside the courtroom door when they get there. “The defendant is currently being questioned,” he says. “The judge wishes that you wait here until they finish with him in order to maintain the integrity of the case.”

Gold nods. “Of course.” They sit down on a nearby bench, Regina stiffly crossing her legs. He turns to Regina. “I’ll call you to testify. Just stick to your statement. You know it’s the truth; don’t embellish anything.”

“I can do that.”

“I’ve spoken to a few of the people around you and asked them to serve as witnesses. Killian, your former manager, is here.” Gold’s jaw tenses as he says Killian’s name. “And Lacey will come after the recess.”

Regina frowns. “Isn’t she with Henry?”

Emma nods. “Just until Ruby can get off work; then she’s gonna come take over. I figure it’s time for them to meet, don’t you?”

Regina smiles softly. “You thought of everything, didn’t you?”

“Hey,” Emma murmurs. She reaches over and covers Regina’s hand with her own. “I told you, I’ve got you. You don’t have to worry about anything, okay?”

The courtroom door opens a crack and another man pokes his head out. He whispers something to the man outside, who approaches the three of them on the bench. “You’re up.”

Regina stands up, posture stiff. She walks with robotic movements to the door. Emma rests her hand on the small of her back, trying to radiate comfort and warmth into Regina’s body.

There aren’t many people sitting in the court, but Emma’s stomach churns when she sees Roland sitting on the defendant’s side. As much as she hates Robin, it makes her feel sick that his young son is here, watching his father face the woman he assaulted.

Emma feels Regina tense beneath her hand. “I’ve got you,” she whispers in her ear. “I’m gonna be right here the whole time. I’m not going anywhere.”

They silently take their places on the side of the prosecution. Gold frowns. “Where’s the defense lawyer? They should have appointed him one.”

“He said he was a lawyer,” Regina says hollowly. “He must be defending himself.”

Sure enough, Robin stands up with his hands clasped behind his back and begins to speak. Emma doesn’t really pay attention to his words until she hears, “I call Miss Emma Swan as a witness.”

She glances once at Regina before slowly standing up and going to the witness stand. She recites the oath, and then Robin starts questioning.

“What is your relationship to Miss Mills?”

Emma bites her lip. “We’re in a relationship – but it’s only just started.” She’s still reluctant to use the g-word, but she can’t exactly say they’re just friends, can she? Not after that date. A shared look with Regina confirms that she chose the right words.

“And can you tell me what you’ve seen regarding the charges against me?”

“I wasn’t there for the initial attack,” she says carefully, tightening her jaw. “But I’ve seen a lot since then. I know you were at my kid’s play rehearsals when she was there, and you went to her workplace on her first day, and I know you came to the place where she was living trying to get to her.”

Robin shrugs casually enough for Emma to bristle. “That’s hardly a stalking case. A few chance meetings, perhaps.”

“There was no chance involved in this,” Emma snarls. “You knew she would be there and you decided to show up torture her.”

“Your honor, that’s speculation and should be scratched from the record.”

“Approved,” the judge states, and Emma clenches her fists and digs her nails into her palms to stop herself from getting even angrier.

“No further questions,” Robin says coolly, going back to his side. “The defense rests.”

Emma stalks away from the witness stand, slumping into her chair beside Regina. “Make him cry,” she hisses to Gold.

Gold stands up and begins pacing back and forth in the court. He makes his opening statement – and honestly Emma’s still too pissed off to hear – before turning to their table. “I call Miss Regina Mills to testify.”

Regina nods, and Emma catches her arm and gives it a comforting squeeze as she stands up to go to the stand.

“Miss Mills, if you would recount the details of the attack, please.”

“I… I was walking down the street and Robin approached me. He offered to buy me lunch, and I accepted, since I didn’t have any money, or anywhere to go until that evening. He bought me some coffee, and took me to lunch. Then he invited me back to his house, and I went. And he… he said he wanted to show me something and took me upstairs. That’s when it happened – he took all my clothes and he was so rough in removing my pants that he made cuts on my legs. I was able to escape before it went any further, and I called Emma to take me home.”

“So, you were staying in Miss Swan’s apartment at this time correct?”

“Yes.”

“And the defendant came looking for you there the next day, correct?”

Regina nods. “Yes. I had to call Emma’s neighbor, Lacey to help me get rid of him.”

Gold nods. “No further questions.”

Regina steps down from the stand and hurries back to sit in her seat beside Emma.

“You did great,” Emma murmurs, gently stroking Regina’s thigh.

“Your honor, if we may have a brief recess?” Gold requests.

His request is granted, and the three of them file out of the courtroom. “We need to prepare for the next session of the trial,” Gold says calmly. He opens his mouth, but his words are cut off by Emma’s phone ringing in her pocket.

“Sorry.” Emma smiles sheepishly. “I’ve gotta take this.” She goes a few feet down the hall before answering. “Hello?”

“Hello, may I speak to Emma Swan?” the man on the other end says.

“Speaking.”

“Miss Swan, this is Albert Spencer; I’m a representative of the Manhattan Social Services Department.” Emma’s stomach flips as he continues. “We received your application, and you seem like an excellent candidate for the position. Would you be available for an interview in the coming weeks?”

Emma’s throat constricts. This is her dream job. She never thought she’d even get this far. It’s an out of state job; the Manhattan department is recruiting people for the office in San Francisco. She only applied because she never thought she’d get the job, never have to make a decision. Now the reality of it crashes over her – the reality that she might be leaving her entire life behind very soon. “Yes,” she manages. “Yes, I would.”

“Excellent. I’ll have my secretary schedule an interview. You should receive an email within the next twenty-four hours.”

“Thank you, sir,” Emma says just before he hangs up. She pockets her phone, taking a few moments to breathe before heading back to the bench where Gold and Regina are sitting. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s all right,” Regina assures her. “We were just talking about the next session and how we’re going to approach it.”

Gold nods. “We need to play you up as a victim. Every judge is a sucker for tears. You think you can turn on the waterworks?”

“I think so.”

“Excellent. I’m going to use the restroom before we resume session.” He stands up and heads down the hallway toward the bathroom.

Emma sits down, resting a hand on Regina’s knee. “You ready to go back in there?”

“I think so.”

“After this we’ll go to Granny’s for dinner, okay?”

“That sounds nice.” Regina smiles. “Come on, people are going back in.” She stands up, and Emma follows her toward the door.

“Hey Regina?” Emma says just before they go in, catching Regina’s wrist.

“Hm?”

“I’ve got you.”

Chapter Text

Emma stands in front of the mirror and adjusts her blazer on her shoulders. She’s still got ten minutes before she has to leave, but she wants to make sure she looks good. She can’t fudge her way through this interview. Not this one.

“Your shoulder pads are messed up,” Henry comments from the doorway. “Let me.” He reaches up and adjusts the pads around her shoulders until they lie comfortably against her shirt.

“When did you become a fashion guru?”

Henry snorts. “Please. One of my costumes for the play has shoulder pads. They’re supposed to make me look more muscle-y than I am.” His ears go red.

“Well, I doubt Prince Charming had the body of a twelve-year-old when he was rescuing Snow White,” Emma teases. “Thanks for the help, kid.”

“Does Lacey really have to come over? I’m old enough to stay home alone for a few hours.”

Emma smirks. “You’re also old enough to break the rules when you think you can’t get caught. Be nice to Lacey, okay? You know she works weird hours.”

Henry grumbles something unintelligible, and Emma walks out into the living room, buttoning her jacket over her shirt and slacks as she goes. She barely says two words to Lacey, who knows the drill by now, before she’s out the door and on the road.

The twenty-minute drive feels like it takes years, but finally she’s parking her car in front of the office building and striding confidently (or she hopes it looks that way anyway) to the door.

There’s three other people waiting to interview. Emma sits down in the chair closest to the interview room and tries her best not to look nervous. When the person before her walks out, she stands up immediately, wincing when she knocks over a plastic plant.

“Emma Swan?” the interviewer calls.

Emma smiles. “That’s me.” She follows the man back and sits down in front of his desk. “Thank you for giving me the interview,” she says right off the bat.

The man smiles. “You seem like a great candidate for the job on paper, Miss Swan. I just hope you can impress me in person.”

“I’ll try my best,” Emma says with a wide smile.

And so the interview commences. Emma learns that the interviewer’s name is Albert Spencer – the same guy who called her a few days ago – and he’s high up in the ranks. She also learns exactly what she’ll be doing in this job; mostly paperwork, which she’s fine with, and the occasional field run to go take care of a kid. She’s going to be a social worker, dealing with finding foster kids suitable homes that will hopefully be permanent.

She’s going to be the hero she wished she had when she was a kid. Or at least, that’s what she promised herself when she forced herself back into college after finishing her GED. She told herself all the hard work (on top of raising a kid, no less) would eventually pay off. And now, sitting in this chair in a pristine office, it just might.

At the end of the interview, Albert is wearing a smile on his face and his handshake is firm and pleasant. “You gave a wonderful interview, Miss Swan,” he says cheerfully. “We’ll be in touch by the end of the week.”

“Thank you, Mr. Spencer.” Emma stands and prepares to go. “Have a great day.”

“And you, as well.”

With a smile, Emma breezes confidently out of the room, a weight off her shoulders and her head held high. Judging by Albert’s positive responses during most of the interview, she thinks she has a fair chance at getting this job. And really, it’s a dream job. All she’s ever wanted is to be a better social worker than the deadbeats who were around when she was in the system. She always thought a social worker should know what it’s like to be in the kids’ position; know firsthand what it feels like to be unwanted. And Emma most definitely does.

Lacey nearly topples her over when she walks in. “How did the interview go?” she demands before Emma can even close the door behind her.

“It was good, I think. He seemed to like me enough.”

Lacey grins. “Of course he did.”

“There’s a catch though.” Emma sighs and migrates to the couch, and Lacey follows her with a curious frown. “The job’s in San Francisco.”

 

Regina smooths her wings down against her back, having to make a conscious effort to still their excited fluttering. She’s about to leave for her first class. It’s a ray of sunshine amidst the dreariness that has been Robin’s trial, and hopefully going to class will help take her mind off the impending decision.

According to Emma (who looked it up online) the community college where her class will be held is about a half hour away via the subway – meaning she should leave right about now. She tucks her phone into her pocket, locks the apartment door behind her, and zips up her leather jacket against the chilly night air before heading down to the subway station about a block from her apartment.

She sends Emma a quick text before losing service underground. Hope the interview went well! I’ll call you after my class. Breakfast tomorrow? x

Shutting off her phone, Regina goes down the stairs and boards the train she’s lucky enough to catch just in time. She’s an expert at the subway by now. She switches lines with ease, weaving through crowds and avoiding heavy foot traffic.

She makes it to the campus a few minutes early, just enough time to not have to scramble to find the correct room.

“Evening, Regina,” the professor greets her when she walks in. He’s a man of maybe fifty-five, with a kind smile and joyful crinkles around his eyes. Regina recognizes him immediately – no wonder the name sounded familiar; he’s come into the store on several occasions to see Kathryn, his daughter.

Regina smiles. “Hello.” She chooses a seat about three rows back from the front and waits patiently for the other students to file in.

Nolan starts the class promptly at seven o’clock. A nice man he may be, but his voice isn’t one that’s particularly interesting to listen to. Regina finds her thoughts drifting as he goes through the course syllabus in a voice that could lull anyone to sleep.

It’s nearly half an hour before they get to the topic of fashion, at which point Regina’s ears perk up and she turns her attention to the professor.

“Many of you are here because you possess an interest in and a talent for fashion and designing, am I correct?”

Regina nods in her seat as though he’s talking only to her, as though he’s actually paying attention to her response.

“So let’s start with you.” Nolan clears his throat. “Everyone please stand up. Each of you is going to introduce yourself and tell us why you decided to sign up for this course. When you’ve spoken, you may sit down. There will be no order; just speak when you hear a break in between speakers.” He gestures broadly to the people in the room. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Regina finds herself forgetting most of the names she hears, but some of them stick. Giselle, who signed up so she could make her own dresses. Arie, who wants to have something in common with a guy named Eric. Sidney, who wants to be the next Christian Dior.

There’s a brief silence, and Regina jumps at her chance. “My name is Regina, and I’m here because I want to prove to my mother that I can be successful at something I love.” Even if she’ll never see me, she adds silently as she sits down. Her wings rustle at the thought of her mother, so far away, and she subtly reaches behind her to soothe their movement. She can’t think about them now; not after being away for so long. Manhattan is her home now.

Emma is her home now.

After the last person has spoken, Nolan glances at his watch. “Unfortunately, our forty-five minutes is up. I’ll see you all next week, and maybe then we can actually begin the class.” He turns to pack up his things, and people begin filing out of the room.

When she turns her phone back on, there’s a text from Emma. Just two words. Call me.

Frowning, Regina dials Emma’s number. “I got your text,” she says when Emma answers. “Is everything all right?”

“Gold called. They came to a decision on the case. We’re being called back to court tomorrow at nine.”

Regina’s stomach does a somersault. “I suppose all we can do at this point is hope for good news.”

“Yeah.” Emma’s voice is just slightly higher than normal, but Regina doesn’t let herself think anything of it. “So, breakfast tomorrow, you said?”

“Yes, I thought we could go to Granny’s. And then I suppose to the courthouse.”

“Sounds good. And hey, you know that no matter what, I’ve got you.”

Regina smiles, even though she knows Emma can’t see her. “I know.”

“I gotta go make sure Henry’s doing homework. I’ll pick you up at eight tomorrow?”

“I’ll see you then.” Regina hangs up the phone, tucking it back into her pocket. There’s a lump in her throat as she thinks about the trial. She can’t help but worry that they might have come to a decision in favor of Robin, that she and Emma might have gone to all the trouble only to lose. That he might still be able to torture her.

The subway ride seems to take hours, but finally she arrives home. Stretching her wings, she finally allows them to move, an outward expression of the unease inside her. They move so fast she ends up hovering a few inches off the ground, curled around herself and trying not to break down.

She’s got Emma. She knows that. So why does she feel so alone? Why does she feel like she’s fighting a losing battle? Why does she feel like she’s the only one she can trust in this strange land?

She once again feels the floor beneath her feet, and her legs crumple beneath her as she falls. She draws her knees up to her chest, face pressing into them. Her wings curls themselves around her like a shield from the world around her. It’s been months since she cried for the life she lost; but now it’s impossible to stop. She almost wishes she’d never come to Manhattan, almost wishes her wings were still white and it was all just a dream.

But she couldn’t do that to Emma. She could never wish away Emma. And so it’s with red, puffy eyes and a wavering smile that she pushes herself off the ground and goes to her room to sleep in her bed in the apartment she pays for herself, in a world where everyone thought she’d die in a matter of days. But Regina’s survived just fine in this realm. No, she’s more than survived.

She’s thrived.

Chapter Text

Breakfast is eaten in relative silence. Emma doesn’t mention anything about her interview, and neither of them want to talk about the impending court decision. Regina picks at her pancakes, finding her appetite all but vanished.

Even Ruby doesn’t bother them too much. She comes over a few times to talk to Emma about Lacey, but when she’s met with monosyllabic answers, she eventually stops, just watching them from the counter in the front with a pitying expression.

“How is Henry?” Regina asks. In all the business of the past week, she’s hardly seen him. “Has he had a second date with Paige yet?”

Emma smirks. “Not yet. But according to Mary Margaret they hold hands in the hallway and hug like they’re never gonna see each other again. It’s a full-fledged middle school relationship.”

Regina laughs, but finds that her heart isn’t quite in it. Not as it used to be. “He sounds happy. And his play, when is that going to be?”

“Next week. He’s super excited; they’ve been working on this since like, Christmas. He keeps almost giving me spoilers.”

“I feel like I haven’t seen him in months.”

Emma sighs. “Yeah, I know. He misses you too. Tell you what, come over for dinner tomorrow night. I’ll cook. It’ll just be the three of us – kind of like our own little family.”

“That sounds nice,” Regina says with a wide smile. She’s got a family now. It’s so much more than what she had when she first arrived in Manhattan – and she never wants to forget how lucky she is to have Emma and Henry in her life. She never wants to take them for granted like her mother did her. “I like that we’re a family.”

“Me too,” Emma grins. “Come on, we can’t be late.” She throws some money on the table, standing up and gripping Regina’s hand. “Hey. I’ve got you.”

Regina smiles softly. “I know.”

Emma doesn’t let go of Regina’s hand the entire drive, and for that Regina is grateful. She’s not sure what would happen if she were in this alone. Gold meets them at the courthouse, and Emma parks next to his Benz.

“Morning, ladies,” he greets them solemnly. “Are you ready?”

“As we’ll ever be,” Emma replies. She squeezes Regina’s hand once. “Let’s just get in there so we can just be done with this whole deal.”

Once inside, Regina finds her knees quivering beneath her. If not for the anchor of Emma’s hand she’s sure she’d collapse on the floor. Her wings buzz, the feathers tickling her skin and face. “Is he in there?” she asks quietly as they stand outside the courtroom door.

“Yes,” Gold says. “I saw his truck outside.”

Emma frowns. “You gonna be okay?”

Regina has an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach, one that tells her they’ve made the wrong choice. But she won’t know until she goes in. “Fine. Let’s go.”

Robin twists around in his seat when they walk in. He fixes Regina with a sly grin, eyes following her the whole way to her seat. She can hear his gloating in her head without him even opening his mouth.

The judge begins his speech, and Regina’s hands fidget in her lap even beneath Emma’s soothing touch. Finally, he clears his throat to present the verdict. He buzzes through an opening statement that Regina doesn’t hear (not that she cares really). Emma nudges her arm to break her of her trance when he gets to the decision. “With the evidence presented, the court finds the defendant not guilty.”

It’s like a tidal wave crashing down over Regina’s head, submerging her beneath the water without warning, like some sick parody of the peaceful dive she took at Emma’s cabin. She can’t breathe. Her throat constricts and her heart pounds and she just wants to get out.

“Regina?” Emma’s voice sounds distant, like Regina’s hearing from underwater and she can’t find her voice to respond. “Regina, are you okay?”

Then there’s a strong hand wrapping around her upper arm in a reassuring grip. “Come on, let’s go,” Emma says gently. She helps Regina out of her chair and leads her out to the car.

Once she feels the crisp spring air on her face, Regina finds herself relaxing enough to clear her head. “Thank you,” she says. “I really needed to get out of there.”

“I wouldn’t leave you to deal with that by yourself. I’ve got you, remember?”

Regina’s about to reply when she’s cut off by a third voice joining the conversation.

“Good try, you two,” Robin says from behind her. “Really, a noble effort.” He claps slowly, sarcastically, and Emma’s features darken at light speed.

Before he can say anything else, Emma’s fist connects with his face with a sound that startles all three of them – Regina thinks she heard the crunch of bone, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking getting the best of her again. “Stay the fuck away from us.” She grabs Regina’s hand and walks her the rest of the way to the car, leaving Robin hunched over and clutching his nose.

Emma’s knuckles are white around the steering wheel as she drives, silently fuming all the way. She parks in front of Regina’s apartment building. “Can I come up or do you want to be alone?”

“Solitude is the last thing I want right now,” Regina sighs. She goes up to her apartment, Emma close behind her.

“He’s an ass,” Emma says as soon as the door is closed. “I just want to step on his throat and crush his windpipe until he begs me to let go, and then crush it just a little bit more.”

Regina shakes her head. “I don’t hate him.”

“What?”

“He did something terrible, and I will never forgive him for that. But nothing is helped by dwelling on it. I’m choosing to move on.” She offers Emma a beer, grabbing a wineglass for herself.

Emma frowns. “It’s ten-thirty in the morning.”

“It’s not been the best of mornings,” Regina retorts with a tight smile. She fills the glass more full than is proper, nodding as Emma grabs the beer on the counter in front of her. “Talk about something. Anything. Distract me.”

“Um… Henry’s play is gonna have its first showing next week. He gets two free tickets; he wants to give them to us.”

Regina smiles. “I can’t wait.”

“I… Robin’s gonna be there. His kid’s in the play too, remember.”

“I’ll be okay. I don’t want my fear of him to prevent me having a good time and seeing Henry’s play. I won’t let him control me like that.”

“If you’re sure…”

“Do you want to go somewhere?” Regina asks abruptly. “This apartment is rather stifling, don’t you think? Let’s go out somewhere and do something.”

Emma frowns. “Like what?”

“I don’t know, all we ever do is sit around our apartments or go to Granny’s. Let’s go see the city!”

“At eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning.”

Regina stands up, draining the rest of her wine in one gulp. “No time like the present, right?” Honestly, she’s not sure what brought this on; all she knows is the apartment was suddenly too suffocating, surrounding her and closing in from every angle. She just needs to get out of there. “Come on, let’s go! I don’t care where, just surprise me.”

Hesitantly, Emma sets down her beer and digs her keys out of her pocket. “You sure you’re okay?”

No. “Yes.”

“Okay…” Emma stands up. She rests a comforting hand on Regina’s elbow and they walk down together. “Let’s grab lunch. We’ll get some pizza from one of those street corner guys.”

Once outside, Regina feels her head clearing and her eyes refocusing on what’s in front of her. She accepts the slice of pizza handed to her by the vendor, trying her best to ignore the grease soaking through the paper and onto her fingers as she bites into it.

“Try folding it,” Emma says, demonstrating.

Regina arches an eyebrow. She folds the pizza in half the long way and takes another bite, humming appreciatively as she chews. “It’s good.”

Emma’s phone rings in her pocket, and with a bit of maneuvering she frees a hand to answer it. “Yeah, this is… he what?... I’ll be right there… bye.” She meets Regina’s eyes as she stuffs her phone back in her pocket. “I’ve got to get to Henry’s school. He got in a fight.”

“A fight?” Regina repeats incredulously. Henry never seemed like the type to fight. “Is he okay?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.”

Regina’s heart sinks at the thought of going up to her apartment alone, but she nods. “You’d better go then.”

“I’ll come back later. Soon as I can.”

“I’ll be here.”

Emma walks her back to the building to get her car. “I’ll see you soon.” She leans forward and presses a kiss to Regina’s nose. “I’m sorry.”

Regina shakes her head. “Henry needs you. I’ll be fine,” she promises. But as she watches the bug drive away, Regina’s not so sure she means it.

 

Emma walks into the principal’s office with her stomach in knots wondering what damage was dealt to Henry. He’s sitting low in his chair with a miserable expression and a black eye, but that looks to be the worst of it. Emma breathes a sigh of relief. “What happened to him?” she demands, facing the principal.

The principal clears her throat. “He refused to talk about it until you were here.”

Emma turns her attention to Henry. “Well? I’m here. Start talking.”

“He kept saying things about you and Regina. And I guess I just… I got really mad. So I hit him.”

Emma’s eyebrows fly into her hairline. “You threw the first punch? Haven’t I taught you not to do that?”

Henry sinks impossibly lower in his chair. “He said you hit his dad. And he said you have anger issues and that Regina’s way stupid and-”

“Hold up,” Emma interrupts. “I hit his dad?” Her blood runs cold with the realization and as she lifts her head just enough to see through the large window into the next room, her thoughts are confirmed. Roland sits in a chair similar to Henry’s. His lip is split and he’s cradling his right arm. But the worst part is the next realization. If they called Emma, they almost surely called Roland’s parent. Which means it’s only a matter of time before Robin walks through that door.

“You got in a fight with Roland?” Emma hisses. She whips her head around to face the principal. “I’m taking him home. Now. What’s his punishment?”

“Three school days’ suspension and a month of detention when he returns.”

“Fine. Come on, let’s go.” She moves quickly to the door, Henry on her heels. She doesn’t breathe until they’re in the car and out of the school parking lot. “So you fought Roland. About what happened between his dad and Regina.”

“He was saying awful things,” Henry mutters. “I know you know how that feels.”

“I never hit Robin!” Emma lies.

“Yes you did. I can tell. Your knuckles are bruised and there’s a little bit of blood on them. You hit him today, didn’t you?”

Emma doesn’t say anything.

“Roland said his dad won the case.” Henry’s voice is suddenly impossibly small, and it’s as though he’s suddenly reverted back to the seven-year-old that was nervous about moving to Manhattan. “Is it true?”

Emma gnaws on the inside of her cheek. “Yeah. It’s true.”

“Is Regina okay?”

“I don’t think so. We’re gonna go see her now. And we gotta take care of her, okay? We gotta be there for her. She’s been through a lot today.”

Henry nods solemnly. “I’m sorry you lost.”

“Yeah. So am I.”

Chapter Text

Regina tosses and turns in her bed, sweat covering her body. The nightmares she hasn’t had in over a month have returned, and they’re back with a vengeance. She can feel Robin’s breath, hot and heavy on her neck, and her entire body is frozen and she can’t move or get away or defend herself.

The next thing she knows is she’s lying in her bed being shaken awake. She lifts her head to lock gazes with a familiar pair of emerald eyes. “Emma?”

“I heard you shouting.” Emma moves to sit beside Regina on the bed. “The nightmares are back again, aren’t they?”

“They’re worse than before.”

“Are you okay now that you’re awake?”

“Not exactly,” Regina admits.

Emma wraps her arms around Regina’s waist. “I’ve got you,” she murmurs into her neck. “You know I’ve always got you.”

“Emma?” Regina says hesitantly. “Will… will you stay?”

“Of course.” Emma presses a soft kiss to the space where Regina’s neck meets her shoulder. “I’ll always stay.”

And with Emma’s arms around her, exactly where they should be, Regina finally finds peace in her sleep.

 

Emma’s gone by the time Regina wakes up. For a moment, she feels a sense of emptiness, until she hears the sounds coming from the kitchen. Stretching, she hoists herself out of bed and slips on her robe to go investigate.

Emma grins at her from the stove when she comes out. “Morning.”

“What are you doing?” Regina yawns.

“Making breakfast. Thought you deserved something nice.”

“Oh. Well, thank you.”

Emma scoops the eggs she’s scrambling into a large bowl and sets it aside before approaching Regina and planting a chaste kiss on her lips. “Sleep okay?”

Regina nods. “Much better.”

“Good. Come on, let’s eat.”

Regina sits down at the table and allows Emma to dish some eggs onto her plate, as well as a few strips of bacon she hadn’t noticed Emma cooking before. Something about this feels… off. She’s not sure what it is, but it feels wrong somehow. Emma’s much too perky this morning, much too excited about breakfast for everything to be normal.

Emma sits down across from her, but doesn’t take any food for herself. “Okay. I gotta talk to you about something.

Knew it. “What?”

“My interview last week. The social worker job. I got it.”

“Are you serious? Emma, that’s amazing!”

Emma gnaws on her bottom lip and stares at the table rather than meet Regina’s eye. “It’s in San Francisco.”

It’s like Regina’s entire world comes crashing down and shatters over the top of her head. She doesn’t say anything; can’t say anything. Can’t think anything but she said she’d always stay.

“I didn’t say yes.” Emma pauses. “But I didn’t say no either. I had to talk to you before I told them anything.”

“You have to take it,” Regina says against every voice in her head screaming at her to beg Emma to stay. “This is your dream job. You can’t let anything hold you back.”

“Yeah…”

Regina reaches across the table and covers Emma’s hand with her own. “When would you be leaving?”

If I take it, I’m gonna fly out this weekend to look at apartments. I’d probably move in about three weeks.”

Regina nods slowly. “Soon, then.”

“Regina…” Emma trails off, lifting her eyes to meet Regina’s. “If I went to San Francisco… would you come with me?”

Something clicks within Regina. This, what she has with Emma, is the real deal. She’s thought she was in love before, but those times were nothing compared to what she feels now. “I would, Emma, you know I would… but I can’t. My class, it’s only just started, and I can’t just leave in the middle of it. It’s the first thing I’ve done that’s been mine.”

Emma shakes her head. “Of course. I’m not gonna make you give that up.”

“But I… I could come later. When it’s finished. If you’ll still have me, that is.”

“Of course I will.” Emma grins and flips her hand over to squeeze Regina’s. “I know it’s fast, and with anyone else I’d be running off to San Francisco without even saying goodbye. But this is you. I think this is legit.”

“I think it is too.”

“So. You, me, and Henry in California.”

“Like a family.”

Emma grins. “Yeah. Like a family.”

 

The weekend is a lonely one without Emma around. Henry stays at Regina’s apartment, but he’s fairly quiet most of the time. He still hasn’t quite come to terms with the fact that he’s moving across the country.

“Is my mom moving because I got in a fight with Roland?” he asks one day.

Regina sets down her book, slowly getting up to walk over to the couch where he’s sitting and put an arm around his small shoulders. “Of course not, sweetheart. She got a job offer. It’s a job she’s wanted since she was a little girl. And I promise you’re going to love it in California.”

“But I love it here. My friends are here, and I just started going out with Paige, and I like it here. I don’t wanna go.” He pauses, and when he speaks again his voice is so soft and timid that Regina has to strain to hear it. “I don’t wanna go without you.”

Regina pulls him into a tight hug. “It’s only for a little bit. I’ll be there with you before you know it. We’re going to be a family, okay? The three of us are going to be a family.”

“She said this was gonna be a forever home. We weren’t gonna move away like all the other times.” He pauses to wipe away the evidence that he was crying. “I wish you could come with us now.”

“So do I; but I can’t leave in the middle of my class. And you know what? Two months is going to go by faster than you can blink, and then I’ll be right back with you. Only there won’t be any Robin or Roland to bother us in San Francisco.”

“Are… are you gonna be okay by yourself? Are you gonna be able to deal with him?”

Regina sighs. “I hope so. I’ll have Lacey and Ruby and Kathryn to help me. I won’t be alone.”

“I don’t want you to not have anyone. Everyone needs someone. Even my mom.”

“Then it’s a good thing she’s got you.”

“She’s got you, too.”

Regina smiles softly as she remembers soft murmurs of I’ve got you and gentle fingers rubbing circles on her skin. “Yes, she has.”

 

Emma lands back in Manhattan on Tuesday, the day Henry goes back to school, and the night his play opens. Roland quit the play for reasons he didn’t tell Miss Blanchard shortly after his fight with Henry, so Emma’s got a good feeling about tonight.

Regina answers the door when she knocks wearing a deep purple sweater and tall black heels that make her legs look amazing – well, more amazing than usual. “Wow,” Emma breathes. “You look fantastic.”

Regina flushes. “So do you.” She steps aside. “Come on in.”

Emma obliges and leans over the kitchen counter, grinning when Regina stands opposite her.

“How did apartment hunting go?”

“It was good. I think I found one. One floor, two bedrooms, one bathroom, open concept kitchen and living room. And there’s a pool on the bottom floor of the building.”

Regina smiles tightly. “That sounds perfect.”

“Hey,” Emma murmurs, reaching across the counter to take Regina’s hand. “Nothing’s gonna change just because I’m moving. And you’ll be there before too long and everything will be exactly how it should be. Promise.”

Regina smiles softly. “I do hope so.”

“Come on, we’d better get going. Henry’s gonna kill us if we’re late.” Emma holds out a crooked arm, and Regina slides her hand around Emma’s elbow with a smirk.

There’s a whole slew of people waiting outside the theater when they arrive. Emma makes a show of paying for both of their tickets, grinning and kissing Regina on the cheek when she protests. “Third row,” she boasts, flashing the neon pink slips of paper. Snaking her hand around Regina’s waist, she latches onto the hand that rests there and tangles their fingers together.

“We should go in,” Regina says with a bright red face and a wide smile. Emma keeps her arm securely around Regina’s waist and their hands together even after they sit down. Maybe her PDA is getting a little excessive, but she’s going to be moving across the country in two weeks and damn if she’s not going to shower her beauty with affection while she still can.

They both perk up in their seats when Henry comes onstage. He wasn’t lying about the shoulder pads – he looks at least three years older with the fake muscles on. Emma’s actually pretty impressed with how it turned out. The kids have definitely been practicing since that first rehearsal. Paige is phenomenal for an eighth grader; it’s nearly believable that she’s the real Snow White and she’s on the run from the Evil Queen.

Something keeps flickering across Regina’s face throughout the entire play. It looks almost like regret, almost like a memory, but it’s gone every time as soon as it’s there. “You okay?” Emma murmurs.

“Hm? Oh. Yes. Fine.” Regina looks somewhat shaken by the play and by Emma’s question, but by the time it’s over she’s got the same proud grin on her face that Emma has as they go to see Henry backstage.

“That was excellent,” Regina gushes, pulling Henry into a tight hug.

“You were great, kid.” Emma claps him on the shoulder. “Granny’s?”

Regina shifts slightly on her feet. “Actually, I don’t feel very well. I might want to just go home.”

“What’s wrong?” Emma asks, tilting her head.

“It’s nothing; I probably just ate something I shouldn’t have. I’m sure I’ll be fine by morning.”

“Yeah okay, I can take you home. Hen?”

Henry shakes his head. “I wanna go to the cast party backstage.”

Emma nods. “Okay, have fun. Text me when you need a ride.” She turns to Regina. “Your apartment?” At Regina’s nod, the two of them head out to the car and drive home in silence. Regina sits with her eyes closes and her head against the window. “You sure you’re okay?” Emma asks again when they get to the building.

“I just need to sleep it off. I’ll call you tomorrow, all right?”

“Feel better.” Emma leans across the seat and presses a soft kiss to Regina’s forehead. “See you tomorrow.”

Regina smiles tightly and hurries out of the car and into the apartment building. Emma watches her go with a frown. Something was obviously bothering Regina during the play. Maybe someday Regina will tell her just what.

 

Regina closes the door behind her and breathes a long sigh. It’s bliss to be alone, where no one can see her fall apart. She gives a few sharp thrusts of her wings; just enough to lift herself into the air. Once she’s maintaining a height just shy of the ceiling, she brings her knees up to her chest and bends her head down over them.

It was that goddamn play. It hit much too close to home. Somehow the people of this world had captured Snow White’s essence perfectly – helpless, needy, and always thinking with an extra helping of false hope.

It’s enough to make Regina miss her.

Maybe her young stepdaughter was a pain, yes, but what child isn’t at that age? Henry definitely has his moments. Regina wonders how Snow has grown in her absence. If she’s grown at all. Time passes differently in her kingdom than it does here. Snow could have aged decades by now; she could be only days older than when they last spoke. How old was she, when Regina left? Ten? Eleven? Just a hair younger than Henry.

Regina lowers herself to the ground and goes to the window. The moon has risen high by now, nearly full, casting her soft, silvery glow onto the world beneath her. Regina remembers the stories her father used to tell her about the moon, stories she then passed on to young Snow.

Her father always said the moon was a young mortal girl by the name of Luna. Luna came across an angel in her path one dark night, and the angel told her the stories of his kingdom. When at last they parted, Luna wanted only one thing. She wanted to be like her friend the angel. She wished every night to fly, to be immortal just as the angel had been. And one night, her prayers were answered. The angels descended and lifted Luna into the sky, where she remains, watching over the world by night.

The memory of the story brings a smile to Regina’s face, and she slowly opens the window and leans out enough that she can look directly up to the moon. “Hello, Snow. I know I promised you I’d come home soon. But baby, I can’t do that. I can’t give up what I have. But do you know what? I’m happy here.” She smiles gently and brings her body back inside, closing the window and wrapping her arms around her enough that her fingertips can stroke the downy underside of her wings. “I’m so happy here.”

Chapter Text

“So.” Emma sits at the table, a beer in her hands. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Regina nods slowly. She takes a long drink from her wineglass. “You are.”

“What do you want to do? I was hoping we could spend our last night together… together.”

“We’re together now,” Regina points out, gesturing around the apartment. Emma and Henry have been staying at Regina’s place for the past week, as theirs has already been sold.

“Are you okay?”

Regina sighs and slumps in her chair. “I don’t want to say goodbye.”

“I don’t either.” Emma reaches over and slides her arm around Regina’s shoulders. “But it’s not goodbye. It’s ‘see you later’. It’s not forever.”

“These next two months are going to feel like two years.”

Emma chuckles. “No doubt about that.”

“Emma?” Regina asks abruptly. “Do you believe in angels?”

“Angels?” Emma makes a face. “Like heaven angels?”

“No. I mean like… guardians. Angels that exist to help people find their happy endings.”

“I mean, I don’t know. I guess I never really did. I always thought if there were creatures that were supposed help people find happiness, where was mine? I’ve never really known what it’s like to be happy; not until I met you.”

Regina nods slowly, a ghost of something flickering in her eyes for a split second before it’s gone. “I always liked the idea of someone else being responsible for my happiness. Do you know why? Because then if I was unhappy it was their fault and not mine.” She smirks. “I suppose that was a bit selfish of me.”

Emma shrugs. “So what? Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish. Sometimes there’s a reason to be.”

“I’m starting to learn that.” Regina smiles. She reaches across the table to take both of Emma’s hands in hers. “Emma, I need to show you something. Just promise me one thing. Promise me you won’t… freak out.”

Emma frowns. “What is it?”

Instead of replying, Regina squeezes Emma’s hands so tightly that her knuckles turn white, and her eyes fall shut in a look of intense concentration. There’s a flicker of something behind her, and then – yes, there it is again. Slowly, they come into focus. Regina’s wings. They’re black, feathery, and huge. Emma’s jaw drops open slightly. “Holy shit,” she breathes.

Regina opens her eyes. “You see them?”

Emma nods once. “Y-You… wings”

“I’m not from your world, Emma. I was exiled here from my home. But part of me feels like… like it was supposed to happen. Like something was drawing us together.”

Emma doesn’t say anything. She’s not really sure if she can say anything.

“Emma? Are you all right?” Regina asks hesitantly.

And ultimately, it’s the anchoring grip of Regina’s hands around hers that bring Emma back to the real world. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“So… I suppose it’s your turn to speak. To tell me what you think of all this.”

Emma’s face breaks into a grin and she gives Regina’s hands a reassuring squeeze. “I always knew you were something special. You’re my guardian angel.”

 

Regina exhales a long sigh of relief at Emma’s words. She was up all night last night worrying about Emma’s reaction, and honestly, it couldn’t have gone better.

“Can I…?” Emma reaches out a tentative hand, and at Regina’s nod, her fingertips make contact with the soft down on the underside of Regina’s wings.

A tiny gasp escapes Regina’s lips. “Sorry. They’re just sensitive.”

Emma nods, and resumes her exploration of them with a gentler touch. “How come they’re black? I mean, aren’t angels supposed to be pure and white and virginal?”

“They used to be white. They turned black when I was exiled.”

“What did you do? To get exiled, I mean.”

“I broke the first rule of the kingdom.”

“Which is?”

Regina smirks as she recites the law. “’One who lives to please others will always be superior to one who lives to please himself’.”

Emma quirks an eyebrow. “And that means what exactly?”

“Selfishness wasn’t tolerated.” Regina shrugs. “I was selfish. And honestly? I don’t regret it. The only thing self-sacrifice has ever brought me is pain. But choosing to do something on my own behalf brought me to you and to Henry, and I will never be able to regret that.”

“Yeah?” Emma grins. “So that’s why you just randomly appeared on the street one night barefoot and in a fancy dress?”

“That would be it.”

“And why you never talked about your family?”

Regina nods once. “It’s not like I could tell you my real life’s story. I told you the truth whenever I could. Just vaguely.”

“Well.” Emma stands up and leads Regina to the bedroom. “You can tell me now. It’s almost time for bed, and if you’re going to tell me your life’s story tonight you’d better start talking.”

Regina laughs sharply. “I’ll never fit my entire life in this one night, Emma. I’ve been alive for nearly eighty years.”

“Damn. Talk about robbing the cradle, Regina. That means you were like, fifty when I was born.”

“In my kingdom I’m considered quite young.”

“So, if you’re eighty, how come you look thirty?”

Regina shrugs. “We’re quite similar to humans, when we’re young. A twelve-year-old angel would look like Henry. But once we reach a certain age – usually between fifteen and twenty-five – our biological clock slows significantly. And somewhere between two and three hundred, it stops completely. We’ll look sixty years old for the rest of our lives.”

“Right,” Emma mutters as she wiggles out of her jeans. She jumps onto the bed, patting the space beside her. “Come on, old lady. Tell me what it’s like to be an angel.”

Regina smirks and climbs under the covers beside Emma. As she begins talking, it’s like a giant object that had been weighing on her shoulders vanishes bit by bit with every word. It’s been so long since she could talk to anyone about her home – there was Tinker Bell, but she was gone far too soon.

Emma makes all the appropriate reactions. She gets angry when Regina tells of her husband the king, smiles when she talks about Snow, frowns when she recounts the things her mother did. She only realizes how long she’s been talking when Emma covers her mouth and yawns.

It’s been an hour. Regina flushes pink and trails off. “I didn’t realize I was talking for so long.”

“No, no, you’re fine. It’s just late and I’ve had enough beer to make me a little drowsy,” Emma assures her.

“Regardless, I’m sure you didn’t want to spend tonight listening to me ramble on about my past.”

“Well… there is one thing I wanted to do.”

“What’s that?”

“There’s a reason I told Ruby and Lacey not to bring Henry over until after Lacey’s shift.” Emma smirks and trails her fingers up and under Regina’s shirt.

Regina tenses as Emma’s meaning registers in her head. “Oh.”

Emma’s fingers slow to a stop. She pushes herself onto her elbow to face Regina. “Are you okay? If you’re not comfortable we won’t do it. I don’t want to dredge anything up…”

“No,” Regina hears herself say. “I want to. I trust you. Just… be gentle, okay?”

Emma smiles reassuringly and squeezes Regina’s thigh. “Just tell me if you need me to stop.” Slowly, the hand that’s still on Regina’s stomach resumes its movement, inching ever higher until it makes contact with the underside of Regina’s breast.

Regina shivers at the touch. She reaches down and pulls up the hem of her shirt to allow Emma easier access, tugging it all the way off. Her breath quickens as Emma drinks in the visual of her bare breasts. “You can touch them,” she says after a moment.

“You good still?” At Regina’s nod, Emma reaches forward and brushes the pad of her thumb over a nipple.

“Oh, I like that,” Regina gasps, arching into Emma’s touch. She sucks in a breath as Emma rolls the nipple between her thumb and forefinger.

“Hey,” Emma whispers. She leans up and presses soft kisses to Regina’s jaw. “Don’t forget to breathe. It’s not fun if you pass out before the good stuff even starts.”

“You mean it hasn’t yet?”

Emma grins. “You’re definitely in for something great.” She lands one more kiss on Regina’s face before making her way down her body, leaving a trail of kisses between the valley of Regina’s breasts and down her stomach until she reaches the waistband of her panties. “You still okay up there?”

“Yes,” Regina breathes.

Slowly, Emma inches the black lace panties down Regina’s thighs, leaving them to rest around her knees. She eases Regina’s legs apart. But it’s Emma’s breath over her center that triggers something in Regina. She remembers Leopold telling her that she’ll never be a good wife if she can’t learn to submit, remembers Robin roughly rubbing her with the palm of his hand, and right now she just can’t. “Wait.”

Emma stops immediately and sits upright. “What happened?”

“Nothing. I just… not yet. Let me make you feel good. Please.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. Lie back,” Regina directs, planting one hand on either side of Emma’s hips so that she hovers over her body. “I’ve never done this before.”

Emma smiles gently. “Let me help you.” She takes Regina’s hand in hers and gently guides it to her own center, drawing in a sharp breath when Regina’s fingers make contact.

Regina’s fascinated by how wet Emma’s folds are. The sticky substance coats her fingers as Emma moves their joined hands in long, sweeping motions before focusing in on one point.

“Clit,” Emma grunts, her breath coming in short pants. “Please.”

Regina obliges and moves her fingers in tight circles over the spot. She continues once Emma’s hand falls away to grip the sheets. Emma’s orgasm takes her by surprise. Her hips buck up into Regina’s hand, her lips fall open in a silent scream, and ecstasy looks beautiful on her. When she comes down, Emma crawls forward to kiss Regina on the lips. “Do you want me to touch you?”

“Yes.”

“Just remember it’s me. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’ve got you.” Emma gently pushes Regina so she lies on her back and settles between her legs. The first swipe of her tongue sends tingles all the way up Regina’s spine, and a cry escapes her lips.

Emma sweeps her tongue in all different directions and patterns, sometimes settling in to trace circles around Regina’s clit, and sometimes drawing back and drawing patterns around the whole of Regina’s center.

When Emma reaches up to play with the lower tips of Regina’s wings, it’s all over. Regina arches off the bed and into Emma’s mouth as a massive wave of pleasure crashes over her and she practically screams her release.

Emma catches her lips in a chaste kiss as she comes down. “Was that okay?” she murmurs without moving away.

“It was perfect,” Regina sighs contentedly. She’s never been taken like that before; so gently, with Emma asking every time she did something. Maybe it could be like this all the time.

Regina reaches over and absently draws patterns on Emma’s skin with her fingers. When she reaches Emma’s abdomen, she leans slightly closer, tracing her finger over the silvery marks that are etched into the pale skin there. “What are these?” she asks softly.

“Stretch marks. From Henry. It’s sort of a permanent reminder to anyone I sleep with that I’m a mom. Tends to scare people away.” She laughs once, with more than a bit of bitterness behind it.”

“I think they’re beautiful,” Regina whispers. She bends her head and presses soft kisses to the stretched skin, reveling in Emma’s tiny shivers.

“I think you’re beautiful.”

She wants to stay up all night, spend her last moments with Emma with Emma, but she’s much too exhausted to stay awake much longer. As she falls asleep she tries to memorize what it feels like to have Emma’s arms around her and blonde curls spilling over both their shoulders.

She’s going to be without either for a while.

Chapter Text

Regina wakes to soft lips pressing kisses to her shoulder, left bare by the sleeve of her nightgown slipping down in her sleep. “Hm?” she groans, rolling over to face Emma. She grins. “Good morning.”

“Hey,” Emma replies quietly.

Regina leans forward for a quick kiss. “Is everything all right?”

“I’m leaving today.”

“Oh.” Regina nods slowly, the domesticity and happiness of the morning evaporating with three simple words. “Yes, that’s today.”

She wakes up in Emma’s arms for the first time. She remembers the previous night’s events – the nightmare, Emma waking up to soothe her, Emma giving her hot cocoa, falling asleep to the sound of Emma’s voice. She wants nothing more than to stay there forever, wrapped in Emma’s warm embrace and blonde curls spilling over her shoulder.

Emma blinks once, gaze never leaving Regina’s. “I’m all packed. So is Henry. All that’s left is to get in the car and go.”

“Don’t let me hold you up.”

“I wish you would.”

Regina parts her lips ever so slightly, meaning to kiss Emma again, when she’s interrupted.

“Ma?” Henry says softly from the doorway. Both women turn to face him.

Emma smiles sadly. “Come here, kid. Give us a happy morning.”

Henry comes forward to lie on the bed between Emma and Regina. Both of them wrap and arm around him, holding him close in a desperate attempt to pretend that this isn’t going to end.

Henry’s arms are wrapped tightly around her waist. “I love you,” he whispers, barely audibly. And then he repeats it in a much stronger voice. “I love you.”

Regina smiles gently and strokes his hair. “I love you too.”

Regina presses her face into his shoulder and whispers, “I love you,” in the softest volume she can muster.

Abruptly, Emma stands up and hurries out of the room.

Regina frowns. Something’s obviously wrong. She climbs out of bed and follows Emma out, sliding her arms around Emma’s. “What’s wrong?” she asks softly.

“It’s not fair.” Emma’s breaking voice betrays her as she turns around to take Regina’s hands. “We just started. We just started something really good. It’s not fair that it has to end like this.”

Regina smiles sadly. “It’s not. But nothing ever is.”

Emma reaches forward and runs a hand over the swell of Regina’s left wing. “I’m glad I got to know all of you before I left.”

“I’m glad you didn’t run. I’m sure anyone else would have.”

“I promised myself I’d never lose you.”

“I don’t want to ever let you go.” Regina squeezes Emma’s hand as though to anchor her there. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Emma smiles despite the tears now dripping down her face. “I’ll be counting on it.” She shifts her gaze to the bedroom beyond Regina’s shoulder. “Henry?” she calls. “Get your stuff. It’s time to go.”

Henry reluctantly leaves Regina’s room and heads to the second bedroom to finish the last-minute packing of his bags.

“So what are you gonna do while I’m off living the dream?” Emma says dryly.

Regina shrugs. “Finishing up my class, mostly. Looking for job offers in San Francisco. Missing you.”

Emma squeezes her shoulder, a gesture that’s always comforted Regina in the past, but today does nothing but make her heart ache even more. “I’m gonna miss you too. It’s gonna be weird sleeping alone.”

“I’ll be there soon to keep you company.”

“I’ll wait for you.” Emma smiles. “I’ll eat a burger in your honor.”

The burger is surprisingly good as Regina bites into it. She savors the wide grin on Emma’s face. No matter how many times she sees it, it sends butterflies to her stomach every time she can gaze upon the grin that lights up Emma’s face like Manhattan on Christmas Eve.

“At least stay for breakfast?” Regina offers.

Emma sighs. “I want to. But if I don’t leave now I probably never will. Take a raincheck?”

“Raincheck.”

Henry comes out of his room dragging two large suitcases. “I’m ready.”

“Can you put them in-”

“I know the drill,” he interrupts her.

“This is the last time,” Emma promises as he opens the door. “San Francisco’s gonna be forever.”

Henry smiles sadly, one hand on the doorknob. “That’s what you said when we came to New York.” And then he’s out the door to put his bags in the car, leaving Emma and Regina lone in the apartment.

“I don’t know if I can be the strong one this time.”

“I know I can’t be,” Regina admits with a soft sigh.

Emma reaches forward and tucks a stray lock of hair behind Regina’s ear, and the look in her eyes alone is enough to break Regina’s heart into the tiniest of pieces. “I guess now we go down.”

Regina nods once. “I suppose so.”

Emma lifts her one duffel bag over her shoulder and follows Henry out, never once letting go of Regina’s hand, and for that Regina is grateful. The bug is already parked in front of the building, Henry sitting in the passenger seat on his cell phone. Emma throws her bag in the backseat before turning to face Regina again.

“So.”

Regina smiles weakly. “So.”

“Is this how you imagined us ending?”

“I never imagined us ending,” Regina says with a shake of her head.

“I guess it’s not really an ending though, is it? I mean, I’ll see you soon.”

Regina wipes the beginnings of tears out of her eyes. “You can count on that.” She clutches one of Emma’s hands in both of hers, but she still doesn’t say it. Saying those three words will only make this day that much more painful. Instead, she thinks them as hard as she can. I love you.

Emma brings her free hand up to gently lift Regina’s chin and meet her eyes. “I just want to see your smile one more time. So I can remember it when I’m missing you.”

“Emma…” Despite everything she’s feeling right now, Regina thinks of all her favorite memories with Emma. Their first dinner at Granny’s, Emma doing her makeup at the cabin, that first awkward date… she doesn’t even have to force the smile. She can’t do anything else when thinking of Emma.

Regina’s favorite times with Emma are when they just talk. Just sit in one of their apartments and talk about entirely inconsequential things; favorite colors, the new movie they see the trailer for on TV, what to have for dinner on Friday. Regina’s never had something so domestic before. She thinks she might like it.

“God, you’re beautiful,” Emma breathes. “I’m definitely gonna miss seeing you smile like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like… like everything in the world is beautiful.”

Regina smiles slightly and squeezes Emma’s hand. “Some things are more beautiful than others.”

“Like what?”

“The leaves changing color in the fall. The mailman knocking on your door when you’ve been waiting for a package. You when you’re asleep and think I am too.”

Emma smirks. “When did you become such a Shakespeare?”

Regina doesn’t answer. Rather, she lets her gaze flicker down to pink lips she knows she’s going to miss when suddenly she can’t kiss them anymore.

“I want to kiss you,” Emma says, echoing her thoughts. “I want one last really good kiss before I have to be without them for a while.”

Regina leans forward and touches her lips to Emma’s, exploring her mouth as though she never had before. Their lips move in time with one another like puzzle pieces fitting together after countless mismatches. When finally, they break, Emma’s eyes are wet with tears and Regina wipes her own cheek to find her hand come back wet. “Don’t you go forgetting me, now,” she manages to say.

Emma smiles. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”

“I’ll see you in two months.” Regina’s trying so hard to hold it together for Emma, for Henry, but how can she when two months suddenly seems like a lifetime?

“Yeah. See you.” Emma glances at her feet before looking back up to Regina. “Close your eyes.”

“Why?”

“Just do it. And count to twenty. Slowly.”

Regina frowns. She complies, letting her eyes fall shut. She counts out loud, slowly, heart racing faster and faster as she passes seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, “Twenty,” she announces, opening her eyes. All she sees in front of her is an empty street, and her heart breaks with the realization.

The bug is gone.

And just like that, the one person Regina’s ever truly loved has left her, and she’s got two months to get through before they can be together again.

Regina stands on the sidewalk with her arms clutched around herself for a good few minutes, absolutely numb, before the emotions finally take hold and she lets out a sob loud enough for several people to send her slightly concerned glances.

“Hey! Hey, wait!”

Regina stops and turns around. “Yes?”

Emma draws her red leather jacket around her. “Aren’t you freezing?”

“Yes.” Regina pauses. “Why did you come out here?”

“I… I don’t know. I saw you watching us.”

Was it really chance that she ended up outside that restaurant? Or was it something more? Tinker Bell might think Regina was destined to love a man with a lion tattoo, but Regina just can’t believe that’s true. Maybe at one point in her life Robin would have been right for her; back when she was a terrified young queen unprepared to rule an entire population. But here, now, she knows she’s meant to be with Emma.

Regina sighs as memories overtake her. She remembers a hand holding hers as they walk into Henry’s first rehearsal, she remembers a kiss in a kitchen in Maine and remembers them swearing it would never happen again. She remembers it happening again on a couch in an apartment she’s just begun to call home and whispers of “I’ve got you” late at night when neither of them can sleep. Emma was going to be her forever home – the one who never left her and who she would never leave.

Except she did.

She’s starting to cause a scene now; people are actually slowing as they pass her by. She goes back inside and up to her apartment, ready to curl into herself and shut out the world, but the sight that greets her when she opens the door isn’t an empty apartment. There’s someone standing in her living room with a huge smile on her face. “Tink?”

Tink grins impossibly wider. “I’m so proud of you, Regina!”

Regina tilts her head in confusion. “For what?”

“For redeeming yourself, silly! You’re coming home!”

Regina’s blood runs cold. “W-What?”

“Remember, in order to have your exile lifted, you had to perform an act of true selflessness.” Tink moves to clutch Regina’s arm in barely contained joy. “Well, you just did! Letting Emma go, to follow her dream – that was the most selfless thing I’ve ever seen you do. The council saw and they sent me down immediately to bring you home!”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Regina, you finally did something right! Come on. Snow’s missed you.” Tink slides her hand down Regina’s arm to take her hand. “Are you ready?” Without waiting for an answer, she snaps her fingers and the two of them disappear in a burst of magic, leaving everything Regina has come to love behind.

Chapter Text

When Regina wakes up it’s in a semi-dark room and on a bed much softer than the one in her apartment. It almost feels like home, but there’s something off. It’s like when you’ve been on a long vacation and when you return home it’s… different somehow. Like it’s moved on without you.

“Regina!” an all-too-familiar voice squeals. “You’re awake!”

“I…” Regina sits up slowly so as not to aggravate the pounding in her head. “Snow?” she groans as the girl’s face comes into focus. “What are you…”

“You’re home! Your wings are still black, but I expect Father will grow used to it.” Snow’s own small white wings buzz excitedly. “Oh, you have so much to catch up on!”

Home. Snow. Snow is here, Snow is saying ‘home’, but this place… this place is anything but. “Emma,” Regina breathes. “No. Snow, I have to go back.”

Snow frowns. “Why would you want to go back? You’re finally home!”

“Stop saying that.” Regina stands, ignoring her headache, and moves to the window. Sure enough, the landscape of her kingdom expands beneath her, stretching on for as far as she can see. Her blood goes cold in her veins and her voice is shaky when she finally speaks. “No. No, I can’t stay here. I have to return.”

“Why?”

Regina turns to fix Snow with a pleading gaze. “Love.”

Snow takes the tiniest of steps backward. “But love is-”

“Forbidden, except for that between family and friends,” Regina recites wearily. “I know. And that’s why I can’t stay here.” Regina moves to stand right in front of Snow, clutching the girl’s small hands in her own. “I have someone down there that I love very much. She makes me happy. I can’t just leave her.”

Snow’s eyes water with unshed tears. “Y-You don’t love me?”

“Oh, no, baby, I do. I love you.”

“But not enough to stay.”

“No.” Regina kneels down so that she’s on eye level with Snow. “I love you enough to go. It’s not fair to either of us for me to stay here and be unhappy.”

Snow sniffles. “But you just got here. You can’t leave again.”

“You’ve gotten so big,” Regina murmurs. She squeezes Snow’s shoulder. “How old are you now?”

“Fourteen.”

“Three years… I’m so sorry I have to go.”

Snow opens her mouth to speak, but the words die on her lips as she focuses her gaze on something beyond Regina’s left shoulder.

“Regina,” Cora’s cool voice greets them. “You’ve returned.”

Regina stiffens and stands up to face her mother. “Mother.”

“Snow, dear, if you’d excuse us. I’d like a word alone with my daughter.”

“Of course,” Snow mutters, ducking out of the room with her head down.

“What do you want, Mother?” Regina demands as soon as Snow is gone.

Cora gives her that same shiny plastic smile that Regina used to think was love. “Can’t I spend some time with my daughter, whom I haven’t seen in three years?”

“No. You can’t. You never do anything without an ulterior motive.”

Cora’s face goes cold, and there’s the woman Regina knows is behind the mask of the dear, loving mother. The murderer, the snake, the plotting temptress who would do anything to see her daughter sitting on the throne. “You’ll have to redeem yourself in the eyes of the people, as well as the king. They all still see you as a traitor.”

Regina smiles tightly. “That won’t be necessary.”

“Well, do you think they’re all just going to magically love you?”

“No. But they won’t have to. I won’t be staying. I’m going back, Mother. And you’re going to send me there.”

Cora scoffs. “You’re blinded by what you think is love. Love is weakness, dear.”

“I don’t care. I don’t belong here. I belong down there, with Emma and Henry. So send me back.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have the authority. You’ll go before the council tomorrow morning. They will decide your fate.” Cora smiles wickedly as she watches her daughter fall apart in front of her. “I had such high hopes for you. It’s a shame you couldn’t follow through.” Without warning, she reaches forward and plunges her hand into Regina’s chest and closes her hand around Regina’s heart.

“Mother,” Regina chokes out. “Don’t do this.”

“Do what, dear?” But Cora doesn’t pull her hand out. Instead, she simply runs her fingers over the heart, stroking in various places. Regina’s breath catches as she runs her hand over the arch of the aorta, pressing down with intent. Suddenly, she tears her hand out of Regina’s chest, leaving the heart where it is, breaking and shattering in Regina’s body. “You’re a disappointment,” she spits. Without another word, Cora turns on her heel and walks from the room with her head held high.

Snow peeks her head around the corner after Cora leaves. “Regina?”

Regina smiles. “Hello, dear.”

“You’re leaving tomorrow?”

“It appears so.”

“Can I… can we…” Snow looks away shyly, trailing off.

Regina crosses the room to slip her arm around Snow’s shoulders. “How about we take a flight? It’s been a long time for me, you know.”

Snow grins and nods enthusiastically, for the first time tonight seeming like her old self.

They walk out of the room hand in hand, both pairs of wings already fluttering in anticipation of flight. However, they’re stopped just before they reach the gate by the one person Regina doesn’t want to see.

“Regina,” Leopold says stiffly.

“Your Majesty.”

“I heard you had returned to us, but I did not believe the rumors to be true.”

Regina forces herself to smile. “I won’t be staying. I go before the council tomorrow morning so that they may declare the terms of my departure.”

“Snow tells me you fell in love during your away time.”

“I did. Which is why I cannot stay here.”

Leopold nods. He glances to Snow before speaking again. “I wish you well.”

“Thank you.” Regina respectfully bows her head before turning to Snow with a soft smile and continuing on their way. Once they’re out the gate, they stop just before they reach the expansive forest. “Where would you like to go?”

Snow grins. “Let me guide you. There’s so much to see.” She lifts off of the ground, taking Regina with her through their joined hands.

It feels so good to be flying again; to feel the breeze blowing through the feathers of her wings and between her fingertips. Regina closes her eyes and lets the feeling wash over her as Snow guides them through the air. Her wings haven’t been stretched in so long, haven’t done anything but folding against her back and hiding from everyone around, and now that they’re finally spread to their full span and she’s soaring through the air, she almost thinks she can’t go back.

“Look over there,” Snow shouts over the wind rushing in both their ears. “The diamond mines are down there. Last year, the dwarves discovered a brand new tunnel filled with them. The fairies won’t run out of dust for centuries.”

“What of the pixies?” Regina asks. “Have you heard anything of the pixie Tinker Bell? How has she fared in my absence?”

Snow thinks a moment. “I haven’t heard of her.”

Regina nods. She points to a particularly tall tree below them. “Shall we take a rest? My wings are getting tired.” At Snow’s nod she angles her descent to land on a sturdy branch. She sits with her back leaned against the trunk and her knees tucked to her chest while Snow perches daintily a few feet away.

“Tell me about the one you love,” Snow says after a moment.

Regina smiles wistfully. “Oh, Snow, you’d love her, I know you would. She’s got blonde hair, and these eyes – I’m still not sure if they’re blue or green, but oh, they’re beautiful. And her smile is truly iridescent. And she’s got a son, he’s just about your age, and he is the most beautiful boy I have ever met. And sweetheart, you know I love you so much, but Emma and Henry are my family and I would never give them up for anything.”

Snow nods thoughtfully as Regina speaks. She twirls a lock of hair around her finger, her face screwed up in concentration. “You have to go,” she says finally. “I can tell you’re happy there, with them, by the way you look when you speak of them. And I want you to be happy even if I can’t be there to see it.”

“Oh, Snow…” Regina trails off, unable to find the words to express what she’s feeling. Instead, she leans forward and wraps Snow in a tight embrace. “You’re so wise for your age. I’m going to miss you the most when I’m gone.”

Snow smiles and buries her face in Regina’s shoulder. “I’m gonna miss you too. But at least I know you’ll be happy, wherever you are.”

“I know I will be.”

“Regina?”

Regina pulls back slightly to look Snow in the eyes. “Hm?”

“Will you tell me the story of the girl who became the moon?” Snow asks sheepishly.

Regina smiles warmly and gently taps Snow’s nose with her finger. “Of course, dear. Long, long ago, there was a young girl named Luna…” Regina tells the entire story, barely tearing her eyes away from the moon itself the whole time. She wonders if Emma is seeing the same moon. By the time she finishes, Snow is leaning on her shoulder, sound asleep. Regina smiles softly and smooths Snow’s hair away from her face. “Sleep tight, my darling,” she murmurs, scooping Snow into her arms. “Luna is always watching over you.”

It takes more effort than usual to fly back to the castle with Snow’s dead weight in her arms, but Regina manages to make it without stopping. Her arms burn with the effort as she finally lands outside the gate and carries the girl up to her bedroom. “You’re getting much too big for this,” Regina says breathlessly, laying Snow down in her bed and tucking her in. “But it’s my last chance to do it.” She leans down and presses a soft kiss to Snow’s forehead. “I’ll be gone by the time you wake. Dream happily, dear.”

Regina goes back to her bedroom, ready to sleep through the night and be back with Emma by the next. However, there’s someone standing in her room when she gets there. “Tink,” she sighs.

“You’re going back.”

“Not in the mood for pleasantries, I see.”

Tink wrings her hands in front of her. “Regina, I just got reinstated. They gave me my wings back.” She flutters the glittering green wings on her back to emphasize her point. “But they only did because I brought you home. I might lose them again if you leave.”

“Tink…” Regina trails off, searching for the right word. “I’m so, so sorry. But I can’t leave Emma and Henry. They’re my family. My happy ending.”

“Regina, please. I need you to stay. If I lose my wings again I’m never going to get them back,” Tink pleads. “I’ll live the rest of my life as a disgraced ex-pixie. I can’t live like that.”

“So come back with me.” Regina searches Tink’s eyes, hoping for a positive reaction. “You lived in that world once. I know you can make it, and find your own happy ending.”

Tink frowns. “I love my life here. I won’t leave it again.”

Regina shrugs, turning away from her friend. “I love my life there. And I won’t stay here knowing that Emma and Henry are down there waiting for me. I’m going before the council tomorrow morning, and I’m going to leave this place behind me so I can be with my family. So I can be happy.”

“When did you become so selfish?”

Regina glances over her shoulder to meet Tink’s eyes. “When it got me my happy ending.”

Chapter Text

Regina gently teases her hair, watching her reflection in the shimmering lake do just the same. Mirrors, of course, are forbidden in the kingdom but once a day, as they encourage vanity – which is ultimately selfish. She’s waiting outside the council chamber for them to summon her and begin the hearing. It should be any minute now; they’ve been consulting alone for nearly twenty minutes.

“Regina,” Cora calls from behind her. “They’re ready for you.”

Regina walks stiffly past her mother and into the chamber, feeling suddenly very small as the council rise above her on their pedestals. Their pristine white wings are spread to their full span and their eyes are cold as they look down at Regina standing with her head bowed below them. “Regina Mills,” the council head begins. “You’ve been summoned based on your desire to gain passage to the world below.”

“Yes.”

“The council has recognized this as a selfish desire. You may now have this opportunity to convince us otherwise.”

Regina shifts on her feet, chewing on the inside of her cheek. “I have served this world to the best of my ability. However, I can’t continue to serve in this way while I am unhappy. And I will be unhappy for as long as I am separated from my family in the other world. So yes, it’s a selfish request. But I’m not ashamed of that.” She sees her mother stiffen out of the corner of her eye, but she glances away just as quickly. She can’t think about her mother right now. Only Emma.

The council members quietly murmur to each other for a moment before the head turns back to Regina. “The council has decided to offer you a choice. The decision you make will ultimately reveal your character, and decide where you will remain. You may choose to be selfish and return to the world below in exile, or may choose the selfless route and remain here in your kingdom.”

If she’s exiled a second time, there’s no way she’ll be back. She’ll be leaving forever. But it’s without hesitation that Regina squares her shoulders, turning her head to look directly into Cora’s eyes. She never breaks from that steely gaze as she says defiantly, “I choose Emma.”

Before anyone can speak, Regina’s agonized scream cuts through the cool, crisp morning air. There’s a searing pain shooting through her, centralized at the point where her wings meet her back. For a moment she thinks her mother has done something; has killed her own daughter rather than face the shame of exile.

But no, she’s falling, falling, falling through the air until she makes contact with hard concrete. The protection spell the council cast protects her from serious injury, but the impact knocks the wind out of her. Slowly, she pushes herself up on her hands and knees. It’s only then that she notices the significant lack of weight on her back.

Her wings are gone.

Regina reaches behind her, scrambling for the feel of feathers and lean muscle beneath her touch, but all she feels is a flare of sharp pain and two angry red scars. A sob escapes her throat. Her wings were a part of her, they were the part of her that connected her to her home. Without them she’s just… mortal. She’s just a woman who doesn’t know where she is and may or may not still work at a shop and fell in love at the most inconvenient of times.

Emma.

She has to find Emma. She doesn’t know how much time has passed in this world; she has to find Emma before it’s too late. She hurries out of the alley where she landed, glancing around at her surroundings. It definitely isn’t the same place where she landed the first time; she’s not sure if it’s even Manhattan.

Before she can take another step, however, Regina feels the slight jabbing of something tucked into the strap of her gown. It’s a small note, written on the parchment used in the Enchanted Forest.

Regina,             I locked my magic onto the council’s when they sent you down, steered you in the right direction. Go find your happy ending. You deserve it.             -Tink

Regina smiles softly and reads over the note twice more. Her eyes water at her friend’s gesture. “Thank you, Tink,” she murmurs. “I won’t let you down.”

San Francisco is a large city. Emma could be anywhere. She remembers Emma giving her the address to her new apartment just before she left. Closing her eyes, Regina delves deep into her memory banks, searching for that address. “Yes!” she exclaims softly when finally she remembers. There’s several people staring at her when she opens her eyes; she must have looked ridiculous standing there like that. But she doesn’t care; not when there’s a travel agency just across the street with a rack of free maps of the city just outside it.

Regina carefully crosses the busy street and takes the map, scanning it quickly to find her location. Pinpointing it with a finger, she then moves her eyes carefully across the page until she locates Emma’s street. And Tinker Bell obviously did an excellent job of guiding her, because Emma’s street just so happens to be three blocks from where Regina stands.

“I’m coming, Emma. I’m coming home.” She takes off at a run, weaving through the crowd and checking her map periodically to make sure she’s staying on the right track. She doesn’t even hesitate before going into the apartment building and taking the elevator to the fifth floor. When finally she stops, it’s when she’s standing outside Emma’s door with her fist raised and ready to knock.

However, she finds she doesn’t need to knock when the door opens and a just-barely-teenaged boy walks out of the apartment, stopping short when he meets her eye. His fingers tighten around his cell phone. “Wendy, I’m gonna have to call you back.” He hangs up and just stands, face betraying no emotion as he stares at the woman in front of him. “Regina?” he asks, voice barely audible.

“I’m here.” Regina grins broadly.

“Why now?”

Regina’s smile fades quickly as she takes in the hint of wariness in Henry’s eye, the way he stands at an angle so he’s closed off to her. It’s all too reminiscent of the way Emma behaved after Regina moved out of the apartment. “What do you mean?”

“You said two months,” Henry says in a voice that cracks ever so slightly – whether from hormonal development or from emotion Regina doesn’t know. “You said you were gonna be here in two months.”

“H-How long has it been?”

“Ma and I left New York a year ago.”

Regina can feel it, her heart shattering along the cracks already there. She’s betrayed Emma yet again, and this time it wasn’t even her own fault. “Henry… can I come in?”

Henry eyes her uncertainly, shifting slightly to take up more space in the doorway. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“Right… yes, of course. I understand. But Henry, I need to talk to your mother. I need to give her an explanation.”

“Don’t I get one too?”

Regina steps forward to take him into her arms, but stops short when he takes a step back from her. “Henry, of course you do. But I need to talk to Emma first. I think I hurt her pretty bad.”

Henry nods shortly. “You did.”

“I’m so sorry, Henry.”

“Me too.”

Regina shifts slightly on her feet. “I know you’re angry, but-”

Henry cuts her off by stepping forward and wrapping his arms tightly around her waist. “I missed you so much.”

“I promise you this time,” Regina murmurs into his hair. “This time I’m here to stay.”

 

Emma revels in the click that signifies the apartment door unlocking, tucking the key back into her pocket and pushing the door open. All she wants right now is to knock back a beer and crawl into bed. “Henry?” she calls as she shuts the door behind her. “I’m home.”

She turns the corner into the kitchen and stops short when she sees Henry sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by plates filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, and waffles. “Did you make this?”

“No,” he says simply. “I’ve got homework.” He jumps up from the table and heads down to his room, leaving Emma standing in the kitchen with a bewildered expression.

“What the hell?” she mutters to herself.

“You said you’d take a raincheck.” The voice comes from the couch, and Emma’s entire body goes rigid when she hears it. Slowly, Regina stands up and walks around the couch, finally coming to stand opposite Emma beside the table.

“No,” Emma whispers, voice strangled. She tilts her body at an angle to Regina in an attempt to close herself off to her.

Regina takes a step closer, hands wringing in front of her and eyes wide with nervousness. “I’m here, Emma. And I’m here to stay.”

“You can’t be here.”

“But I am.”

“You said two months,” Emma shouts. “You said two months, and it’s been a fucking year, Regina. You can’t just show up and expect everything to be okay!”

“I don’t expect,” Regina says softly. “I expect you won’t forgive me. I expect I’ll never be able to be with you again. But I want to explain. I want you to know why I’m late. I owe you that.”

“Is that why you’re here? Because you owe me?”

“No, Emma that’s not it at all! I’m here because I love you. And I know we haven’t said it before but I do. And if I can’t be with you I at least want you to know why.”

Emma hesitates for a long time, simply taking in Regina’s face. The face she never thought she’d see again after a month of unanswered calls and ignored texts. She thought Regina didn’t want her anymore. And for a woman who’s spent her entire life being rejected, who thought she was immune to it by now, it hurt worse than anything she’d ever experienced. She should throw Regina out right now without another word. Instead, she hears herself saying, “Sit down. We shouldn’t let this food go to waste.”

Regina smiles and sits down in one of the chairs, piling two plates high with breakfast food. Before she can speak, however, Emma blurts out a question that’s been burning in her mind since Regina revealed herself.

“Why can’t I see your wings?”

“That’s part of the story. Look, Emma, I know this is hard to believe, but what’s been a year for you has only been a few hours for me.”

“What?”

Regina sighs and takes a moment to chew and swallow before she continues. “I went back to my kingdom. Well – I was taken back. The condition of my exile was that an act of true selflessness would be enough to earn my way back. And letting you go to live your dream without me… that was selfless.”

Emma tilts her head. “So what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be up there reunited with your family?”

“You’re my family.” Regina reaches over and takes Emma’s hands, and it’s such a familiar gesture Emma forgets to pull away. “I asked them to send me back here. I only stayed for one night but time passes differently there than it does here. But Emma, believe me when I promise you that I am here to stay.”

“How do I know? How do I know you won’t do something selfless and they’ll come take you away again?”

“Because this time there’s no way back.” Regina breaks her gaze from Emma’s, staring at her lap. “I was exiled permanently. Wanting to return to you was a selfish desire and it’s my second offense.” She twists around in her chair and lifts her shirt – borrowed from Emma’s own closet, she notices – to reveal two large gashes in her back that look painfully fresh. “They took my wings.”

Tentatively, Emma reaches out and touches a fingertip to one of the wounds, quickly drawing her hand away when Regina winces. “You gave up your wings to come here.”

Regina turns her head, eyes shining with unshed tears. “You’re worth it. You’re worth so much more to me than anyone there, Emma. You and Henry both.”

“I thought you didn’t want me anymore,” Emma admits, voice suddenly hoarse. “When I called you every night and you never answered. I thought… I thought you were just like everyone else in my life. Henry’s the only one who’s ever stayed.”

“I will never leave again,” Regina promises, taking Emma’s hands in hers once more. “Not because I can’t live without you, but because I never want to again.”

Emma smiles and kisses Regina once, reveling in lips the she hasn’t tasted in a year and are just as sweet as she remembers them. “I heard something really interesting after I came here. Someone told me that a guardian angel was meant to bring you what you most desire.”

“And what’s that for you?”

“Someone who’ll love me. Who won’t get sick of me after so much time.”

Regina squeezes Emma’s hands. “I could never get sick of you.”

“Then I guess that settles it.” Emma grins. “Even without your wings, you’re my guardian angel.”

“And I always will be.”

The End

Chapter Text

One year later

“Okay, this time put just your thumbs in your pockets.”

“Ugh, come on,” Henry groans. “You guys are gonna make me late.”

Regina reluctantly puts down the camera, smirking as Emma ruffles Henry’s hair.

“Hey! I spent time on that!”

“Tough nuts, kid. Come on, we don’t want you to be late to your first day.” She steers him to the front door, giving him a small shove to send him on his way. “Get in the car; I’ll be down in a minute.”

Regina smiles and lets herself be drawn into Emma’s arms, gently kissing her. “He’s all grown up already,” she murmurs against Emma’s lips.

“I know. It’s crazy. Seems like just last year he was starting kindergarten.” Emma kisses her briefly before continuing. “So it’s our anniversary tonight.”

“Oh?”

“Since you came back. One year today.”

“And what are our special plans for tonight?”

Emma smirks mischievously. “Henry’s sleeping over at a friend’s. I was thinking I’d cook. How does a romantic candlelit dinner on the patio sound?”

“That depends,” Regina replies teasingly. “What will you be wearing?”

Emma leans forward to whisper in Regina’s ear. “Anything you want.”

“Ma, hurry up – ugh, gross!” Henry exclaims from the doorway.

Regina goes red and pulls away from Emma, winking at her in a promise of something more. “You should get going. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Come on, cockblock,” Emma calls to Henry. She turns back to Regina. “I will take care of you later,” she murmurs before leaving the apartment with Henry in tow.

Regina smirks and sits down on the couch, running her fingers through the cat’s silky fur when he jumps up into her lap. “They’re idiots, Moonstone,” she muses. “But they’re my idiots.”

 

“You ready?” Emma says with a smile. “Last session.”

Regina grins broadly. “Let’s do it.” They leave the apartment hand in hand, and Regina drives to the tattoo parlor – she passed her license test last week and has wanted to drive everywhere. The tattoo artist, Lance, grins when they come in. “You ready for your last session?” he says in greeting.

Regina sits down in the chair and removes her shirt to reveal the mostly-complete tattoo covering her entire back.

“All right, all we have left do is gonna be your lower back. This is gonna be the one that hurts the most, so consider that fair warning.”

Emma smiles reassuringly. “You can hold my hand if you want. Squeeze it as hard as you need to.”

“You just want an excuse to hold my hand.”

“So it’s a mutually beneficial situation. Take it or leave it.”

Smirking, Regina slips her hand into Emma’s and settles her fingers into a comfortable enough position to squeeze. She’s pretty sure she comes close to breaking Emma’s hand at the first touch of the needle to her skin, but with four sessions already under her belt she grows accustomed to the feeling quickly.

Emma presses gentle kisses to Regina’s fingers whenever she squeezes particularly hard, brushing dark locks out of her eyes when she bends her head down to hide her grimace. Finally, Lance announces that he’s finished, and Regina stands up and stretches her legs, sore from sitting in the chair for so long.

“Do you wanna see it?” Lance asks. At Regina’s nod, he leads her to a corner of the shop where two full-length mirrors are placed across from each other. He positions her at an angle where she can see her back reflected through both of them, and the view takes her breath away.

The wings stretch across her shoulder blades, traveling down in incredible detail over the scars where her real wings were attached (that was the most painful part), finally ending in soft, feathery tips near the small of her back where the ink is fresh and the skin is still angry and red around the image. The tattoo brings tears to her eyes; it’s almost as beautiful as her wings were. She still misses them sometimes, but now with this she never has to.

Emma comes up behind her and rests a hand on her shoulder with a soft smile. “They look just like your old ones,” she whispers quietly enough for just Regina to hear. “You like it?”

The words catch in Regina’s throat when she tries to speak, and she just nods as the tears spill over and she wipes at her eyes with both hands. She leans into Emma’s embrace as she clutches her, burying her face in Emma’s shoulder. “I love you,” she whispers finally, unsure if Emma can even hear her.

“I love you too.”

Regina pulls her shirt over her head, wincing slightly as the fabric touches the tender flesh at the small of her back, and the two go to the front hand-in-hand.

“You know the drill by now,” Lance says as he calculates the cost for this session. “It’ll hurt for about two days, and then you’ll be fine. Keep it clean, try not to wear any tight shirts or pants, et cetera.” Emma pays, and Lance gives them both a broad smile as they turn to go. “I hope you love it,” he calls after them.

“I do,” Regina murmurs, more to herself than to either of them. “I do.”

 

“Have fun, you two,” Regina says with a smile.

“You sure you don’t want to come?”

“I’ve had a long week; going to the mall is the last thing I want to do. I just want to relax.”

Emma pouts. “We’ll miss you.” She kisses Regina lightly on the lips. “Don’t let Moony trick you into feeding him again.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “Why no one can call my cat by his given name is beyond me. His name is Moonstone.”

“Right, and his nickname is Moony. We’ll be back in a few hours. Don’t go too wild,” Emma teases. Pressing one more kiss to Regina’s lips, she grabs her keys and leaves with Henry in tow.

Regina curls up on the couch with Moonstone and an open book in her lap, grateful for the peace and quiet to catch up on her book. As much as she loves her family, they can sometimes be quite the obstacle to her relaxation. She hasn’t moved from her spot for nearly two hours when her phone chimes beside her with a text message. It’s a picture message from Emma, and what the photo contains makes Regina’s heart double speed and her breath catch in her throat.

It’s a ring.

And it’s beautiful one, at that. A golden band with a small diamond in the center. But what really catches Regina’s attention is the intricate feathered wing on the right side. Made of tiny diamonds, the wing looks exactly like Regina’s did when they were white and pristine. The left side of the ring doesn’t have the wing. Half and half. Just like her. The message attached to the photo says only one thing: ?

Regina’s eyes grow wet with unbidden tears as she replies: !

And then her phone is ringing in her hand and it’s Emma. When she answers, Emma’s voice sounds as nervous as Regina feels.

“Yeah?”

Regina can’t stop the smile that spreads across her face and the moisture that spills out of her eyes and makes tracks down her cheeks. “Yes.”

 

Regina closes the patio door behind her, drawing her cardigan around her against the cold as she steps outside. The moon is barely visible tonight; just a tiny, impossibly slender crescent shining down over the city against the black painted backdrop of the night sky. “Hello, Snow,” Regina murmurs to the moon. “I wonder if you can hear me. I suppose I’ve been wasting my time every night if you can’t, hm?”

She sighs. “It hasn’t been a waste of time. I like talking to you at night. It’s almost like I can pretend you’re still with me.” Regina smiles softly and shakes her head. “I miss you, Snow. I don’t think that’s going to go away. But I hope you can forgive me for following my happiness.”

And maybe that soft breeze is Snow saying she does forgive her.

She stays outside for a few minutes just staring up at the sky, until she feels strong arms slide around her waist and gentle kisses to the side of her neck. “Coming to bed?” Emma murmurs, pressing her lips to the spot where Regina’s neck meets her shoulder.

Regina smiles and turns in Emma’s arms to kiss her. “Of course.” And as she curls up in Emma’s embrace and feels blonde curls spilling over both their shoulders, she thinks maybe she’s finally found a forever home.

“Hey, Regina?” Emma murmurs, seeming to sense Regina’s mind working.

“Yes?”

Emma tucks her nose into Regina’s shoulder. “I’ve got you.”

“Yeah?” Regina murmurs contently.

“Yeah. Always.”

People have always told Regina that love isn’t simple. Love is complicated and terrifying and a risky business, but never was she told how wonderful love truly is. She absently twists the engagement ring on her finger, running her thumb over the stunning detail in the wing. Maybe her whole life was leading up to this; to Emma. Maybe everything she endured in the Enchanted Forest was simply preparing her for this – for love.

Everything she was looking for, everything they both were looking for, they found in each other. Somewhere along the path they were both stumbling along completely blind they both must have done something right, because in each other they found something amazing. They found a home.

And it is that simple.